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Editor's Note: Today we feature a guest post from attorney David Barrett, an early, early adopter of LinkedIn, who now has the world's largest LinkedIn lawyer network. David explains the attitudes and actions that limit your success on this powerful platform.

As we approach the 10th birthday of LinkedIn, I seem to get fewer skeptical questions about the business development potential of social media from lawyers I meet at bar association events, legal conferences and law firm retreats.  

However, I still frequently hear statements like, “I’ve been on LinkedIn for years and I've never gotten a client from it.”  

Figuring out exactly how your clients found you is a tricky business, but assuming you're correct, here are my top ten reasons why that may be the case:

10. Your profile is incomplete and you haven’t even added a photo.  

Let’s get this obvious one out of the way first.  The legal marketplace is an extremely competitive environment.  The days are over when simply being a lawyer in your community meant that people sought you out for your services. Half of the BigLaw or high-end legal work is gone

If you don’t have a robust, multi-dimensional, content-filled LinkedIn profile and you complain that you aren’t getting clients from LinkedIn, your skepticism about using social media for business development has gotten in the way of you even taking the first step. Of course you aren’t getting any clients from LinkedIn. You never will; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

9. You think your LinkedIn network is a secret cabal. 

If you’re a member of Skull and BonesScroll and Key or the Cadaver Society, certainly don’t tell me about it, but attempting to replicate something like a business fraternity or your local BNI International on LinkedIn is a surprisingly common, but fatal, mistake.   

If you’re setting up a private referral club, great, but at what point along the way did you decide to create this group on LinkedIn? LinkedIn isn’t a private club – it's LinkedIn. It's not an online Rolodex either. (Remember those?)   

Not only does every LinkedIn profile have a public aspect to it, but LinkedIn's business development advantage over other social networks is that profiles have such robust information about each member. We don’t have to wade through baby photos, requests for collaboration on Farmville, or 140-character notes about breakfast to find the kind of professional that fits our marketing and networking profile.  

You want to find people you want to meet on LinkedIn, but you also want to be "findable."Getting found by the right people is a key aspect of lawyer business development. The more connections you have, the more likely you'll be at the top of LinkedIn search results. More direct connections also increases the frequency that people find you who may be a second- or third-level connection via various means (e.g., searching the LinkedIn networks of others or searching in LinkedIn groups).

8. You’re a person with very high standards, and you only connect on LinkedIn with people who meet very strict criteria you dreamed up. 

There's a difference between LinkedIn’s connection function and its recommendation function. Those who limit their connections to people they'd recommend, or with whom they have a deep professional relationship, or worked with, or were in Skull and Bones together, are missing out on the great power of LinkedIn. 

Certainly none of us want to connect with phishing accounts, hackers or persons using fake profiles to engage in fraud. At the same time, it's absurd to think that LinkedIn is set up merely to interact with people you already know.  

I don’t know anyone who joins LinkedIn networking groups as a way to find people they already know. When I want to ask a friend a question, I use the telephone, not the LinkedIn Q&A Forum. If my group wants to have a discussion, we’ll set up a conference call, not a LinkedIn discussion. 

I wouldn’t encourage distinguished lawyers with high-quality online footprints to degrade their LinkedIn profile with “LION” (LinkedIn Open Networker), or declare how they'd never “IDK” (I don’t know) someone asking to connect. (Open networkers willing to connect with anyone at all often include such language in their profile).  

However, directly connecting with LinkedIn members who match your marketing and networking target profile, and whom you do not yet know, constitutes a “virtual handshake," and can be a very useful addition to the overall business development puzzle. 

7. No one wants to join your selfishly-focused LinkedIn group. 

I see many lawyers and law firms who seem to conclude that they're “on LinkedIn” because a few people in the office have a profile with a photo and, not only that (drum roll) WE HAVE A LAW FIRM GROUP!

Well, congratulations on that. Now, these folks are somewhat better about developing business with LinkedIn than those mentioned above, but this poor use of LinkedIn groups is a common mistake. 

If you don’t believe me, go to the LinkedIn groups directory and search “law firm” to see all the dead-on-the-vine, under-10-member LinkedIn groups listed.  For each of the five law firm groups that have a whopping 40 members, there’s a paralegal out there who deserves a raise. By contrast, if your LinkedIn group adds 50 to 500 members per week by its own attraction and popularity, you’ve likely achieved a “membership tipping point” and have a clear signal that you’ve created a networking resource that your marketing and networking targets want to join. 

What’s important here is not so much that these groups are mistakes, but that too few law firms create online social networking groups as a gift or resource for those they wish to reach. Never forget, in social media as in life, you have to give to get

If your Employment Litigation Defense practice would like to reach Human Resource Directors, create a group like The Employment Law Network. HR Directors don’t want to join your law firm group. What does it offer them?  

Put yourself in the shoes of your marketing and networking targets and create LinkedIn networking groups that meet their needs. Create as many as the current LinkedIn rules allow (10 per profile), but create good ones. Provide members with information they actually want and need. Inform them of events they’d have reason to attend, or provide networking resources that help them advance in their careers. 

6. You don’t have a marketing plan for your law firm, much less a social media marketing plan. 

Developing a marketing plan for your law firm isn’t as hard as it may seem at first. Just make sure you create one that's actually useful

At minimum, you need to do two things.  

  • Identify your competitive advantage. Is your law firm the worldwide expert? The least expensive? The most responsive? The most aggressive? Why should a prospective client choose your firm over another? Even better, break down the competitive advantage for each practice area in your law firm as if it were an independent business. (See #5 below.) 
  • Define the specific personal characteristics of the marketing and networking targets your business would like to reach. A one-word description such as “bankers” isn’t specific enough to allow you to develop a plan to reach professionals in the banking industry who may actually refer business to your law firm. 

Using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogs for business development purposes is known as “social media marketing.” The important idea is that it’s a subset of “marketing.” Your law firm needs an overall marketing strategy and plan first, after which you need to develop a strategy for social media marketing that supports this plan. Asking your administrative assistant to “get you on LinkedIn” will “get you on LinkedIn,” but developing business from LinkedIn is another thing entirely. 

5. You haven’t treated each practice area in your law firm as an individual business with its own marketing plan. 

Although lawyer-to-lawyer referrals may be an appropriate target for some practice areas, each will logically have different groups of professionals that could bring business to the firm. 

Each practice area member contribute to their group's online effort. If you’re blogging (and you should be) it’s better to have a blog for each practice area than one for the whole firm featuring an unrelated mix of topics.  

4. You don’t have time for LinkedIn

If you don’t have time for business development you may be fine for now, but overall, your career is on thin ice. 

If you have a plan for what you're doing online, it's much easier to break it down to individual tasks and delegate them. Better yet, give previously-excluded people the opportunity to opt-in to a contributory role. You'll still supervise online activity on your behalf, but there’s considerable detail-oriented work that others can do. 

3.  You think of all social media as “this weird new stuff” without noticing the differences between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 

Despite the eye-popping statistics and examples of how social media has become integrated into our lives, lawyers tend to remain a hard sell.  

Even if you can’t say “Twitter” without laughing, and wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook, be smart enough to recognize and appreciate the difference in LinkedIn’s professional online environment that, together with the LinkedIn profiles, serve as “online resumes” to give LinkedIn users a rich cache of information to connect with marketing and networking targets of all types. 

No matter what type of law you practice, lawyer-referral remains one of the most accepted means of business development. Whatever your marketing and networking targets' profile, it’s a safe bet that other lawyers will be part of it.   

Online lawyer networks offer many practical business development uses and LinkedIn is a great place to get started. 

2. You “bang on LinkedIn” all day, i.e., you cut, paste, and send the same pre-written promotional letter to all your direct connections without even including their name. 

You aren’t developing business; you’re pissing people off. 

I hate to legitimize this practice by including it, but it happens so often that it must be mentioned. My next blog post may be a top ten list of replies I get from people who forgot to change the name on their letter and called me John or Jim or Robert after I responded with something like “Hello, my name is David.”  

At the same time, I won’t be too critical because these folks are at least making an effort. However, you're better off to work smarter not harder.  

So many lawyers I speak with tell me they’re “on LinkedIn” or “on Facebook” or “on Twitter.” Yet, to develop business, lawyers must not only be “on” social media. They must also create and execute a social media marketing plan that makes sense for their firm. 

1. You don’t know how to move your online connections into the non-virtual world. 

Your social media consultant likely has you employing various means to “engage your audience” on multiple social media platforms. Urging your LinkedIn connections to follow you on Twitter or connect to your Facebook fan page is just like rolling a stone up a hill -- without the physical fitness benefits.

To get business from LinkedIn, some percentage of your online connections must engage with your firm’s real-world business development process and practice

“What 'real-world business development process,'” you ask?   

You’re not alone. We didn’t learn this in law school and, until recentl,y only the wealthiest law firms invested in business development training for their lawyers. Now, though, technology allows lawyers to get effective business development training at modest enough cost that you don't have to wait for your firm to make a firmwide investment. There’s no longer any reason to be ignorant about how to get your contacts out of LinkedIn and into the real world, or what to do when you get them there. 

Once you have a rudimentary plan, there are technologies other than social networks that can help bring the people you don’t yet know on LinkedIn into your process of personal networking meetings, networking phone calls, events, and formation of strategic business development partnerships.  

Approved Contact combines your digital calendar with communication features found on social networks like Facebook. This lets you schedule meetings at available times with like-minded business networkers you’ve already approved to interact with you in this way, and lets you communicate using enhanced features that put your business relationship building skills “on steroids.” 

Another popular technology is the mobile application Here on Biz, which interacts with LinkedIn to show mutually convenient times to meet in person with LinkedIn connections when you both happen to be in the same area.  

This mobile app really seems to be taking off. It seems my smart phone is nearly constantly alerting me that another of my 24,000 LinkedIn connections has joined Here on Biz

Share your thoughts in the Comments section.  I'll see you online, and hope to meet you in the “real” world, too. 

David Barrett

[Editor's Note: In addition to his law practice, David consults with lawyers re: using LinkedIn effectively.]

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