I was recently asked to give a presentation on LinkedIn to members of the Law Library of Ireland. The event was organised by members of the Junior Bar Council and was intended to provide some practical guidance to those barristers at the early stages of building their legal practices.

I was preceded by the Hon. Mr. Justice John McMenamin, of the Supreme Court, who unknowingly provided an excellent platform from which I could deliver my presentation. Justice McMenamin was giving advice based on his experiences as both a barrister and a judge. He advised those junior barristers assembled that they needed to make a conscious effort to build their legal practice by establishing a stellar reputation, ideally in some particular area of the law, and strengthen their network.

Although the legal practice of any two lawyers, whether they be barristers or solicitors, can be as different as night and day, those same lawyers will probably be applying the same fundamental principles in an effort to build that practice. Good work will always lead to more work, but for all lawyers, the importance of reputation and network can never be underestimated. The premise of my presentation was that the strategic use and application of LinkedIn can greatly assist lawyers in developing and consolidating both of these key aspects.

There were four things I recommended all lawyers do in order to maximise the benefit they derive from their LinkedIn accounts: build; consolidate; contribute; andmaintain.

1. Build a Profile

Why?

A lot of professionals, lawyers included, are under the impression that LinkedIn is ultimately a resource for recruiters to find people for particular roles. At the time of writing, there were 414 million registered users of LinkedIn. Of that number, only 1% consisted of recruiters. This figure may not reflect the amount of content generated on your LinkedIn news feed, as recruiters will typically post and publish to a greater degree than most of your other connections. However, all LinkedIn users should remain mindful of the silent majority that read, post or comment on a less frequent basis. For many lawyers, their immediate peers are their target audience.  Not all lawyers will come from full service law firms. When lawyers need to refer work outside of their firm, this work will most likely be referred to someone they know and trust. This is where LinkedIn may prove useful, if used properly.

Although LinkedIn is only one, of many tools a lawyer can use to develop his or her reputation, it is a very powerful one. If you think back to the amount of seminars or conferences you previously attended, I suspect you may find it difficult to identify how many lasting connections you have made as a result of interactions at these events. Business cards, as well as emails, are often exchanged, but to what extent are those people you met still on your radar? More importantly, to what extent are you on the radar of those people you met? LinkedIn is the ultimate tool to consolidate your network as it allows you to cement a connection, and build upon it.

LinkedIn provides an opportunity for lawyers to develop a degree of professional trust with their peers and potential clients. LinkedIn allows lawyers to multiply the exposure and effect of business development activities through the sharing of content with their connections. The more connections, the greater the reach. The more content, the greater the exposure. But remember, quality is key when it comes to both.

How?

There are some very simple rules to consider when building a LinkedIn profile.

Your title should be clear and straightforward. If you want people to turn to you because you are a specialist in a particular practice area, then you should include that practice area in your title (i.e. Criminal Law Barrister, Corporate Lawyer etc.).

Your photo should be professional. Regardless of your quality of work, first impressions still count. Your LinkedIn profile photo will probably be seen more often than you personally will by your LinkedIn connections, so make sure it is representative of the type of image you would like to convey.

Your summary should be concise and focused. No more than a paragraph, it should provide a summary of your practice areas and experience to date.

The experience you provide should be detailed and highlight, to the greatest extent possible, the responsibilities and professional achievements you have accumulated to date. Where a former role is relevant to your existing appointment, expand upon it to demonstrate a depth of knowledge and exposure.

2. Consolidate You Network

A useful exercise to perform, on a regular basis, is to identify and connect with those people already within your network.

Email Account

LinkedIn provides lawyers the opportunity to connect with those people who may already be within their existing professional network by trawling through existing email connections (from the ‘My Network’ tab of the toolbar go to ‘Add Contacts’ and add email address before completing the search).

Existing Networks

Networks are a powerful resource and should never be underestimated. I reminded those attending my presentation on LinkedIn that, not only were they all members of the Law Library, but each was a graduate of the King’s Inns. These were two particular bonds that joined the members of the audience but I questioned to what extent, given some research, could other connections between those present be found, whether it be a shared university, school, club or society? Many of these connections may seem quite tenuous at first, but the establishment of such common ground can be a great way of strengthening an initial connection.

Outside of education, we are increasingly witnessing companies refer to former employees as ‘alumni’ of the company. Although it may be a question of semantics, our emotional connection to a company can be very different, depending on whether we consider ourselves a former employee or an alumni member. Most companies are starting to appreciate the power of their alumni networks as both a tool for business development and as a potential candidate pool for future openings. Consolidating relationships established in a former working environment is an easy way for lawyers to strengthen their professional network.

One of the methods of searching for potential connections from your existing networks is by going to the ‘My Network – People You May Know’ option. LinkedIn can be quite astute in the people it may recommend you connect to, using your employment and educational history data. For a more advanced search, go to ‘My Network – Add Contacts’. Below the LinkedIn suggested profiles you will find an option to filter contacts, from which you can search for classmates, colleagues, group members and more.

Remember, it is important to be strategic about who you add as a LinkedIn connection, by questioning the professional value a potential connection will add to your network.

3. Contribute

There are over ten thousand practicing solicitors and over two thousand practicing barristers in Ireland. It is impossible for any significant number of these lawyers to be each perceived industry experts on particular niche areas of law, but it is possible for each of these lawyers to demonstrate, through LinkedIn, a comprehensive knowledge of their practice area.

Comment

Lawyers by their nature are usually quite conservative. There is a safety that comes from keeping one’s head below the parapet. But if lawyers are to truly maximise the value they derive from LinkedIn, they must be prepared to engage, and one of the simplest ways of engaging on LinkedIn is to comment and contribute to existing content.

Post

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate an interest in a particular practice area is to post on it and contribute to LinkedIn content. There are a number of lawyers I recognise on my news feed from the focused content they contribute. There is a consistency between these posts. Whether they be a criminal or corporate lawyer, by posting relevant content to LinkedIn, they are demonstrating an awareness of developments affecting their industry. In many cases, these posts are links to articles that their professional peers may appreciate, often coupled with some personal comment. Contributing to the LinkedIn experience of others by posting content is possibly the simplest way of demonstrating your own commitment to stay informed.

Publish

For the more adventurous who are willing to commit to more than a post, the next option is to publish. Most lawyers will appreciate the significant kudos that comes from having a paper published in an academic journal. However, LinkedIn provides an opportunity for lawyers to add substantial commentary to a particular matter affecting their industry by publishing commentary on it. Longer than a post, but (usually) shorter than an article, a LinkedIn published article can be a useful way of sharing insight or experience, in a very simple, but effective way.

4. Maintain

LinkedIn, as a professional tool, should be exploited daily. The news feed on your LinkedIn account, if managed correctly, should be a mine of information from those people and companies it is your business to be aware of. Knowledge is power, and informing yourself of developments in your industry or practice area should be a daily habit.

Try to make a conscious effort to open your LinkedIn account on a daily basis, review the content, occasionally comment or contribute and add recent connections.

The use of LinkedIn alone won’t establish you as an expert of a particular area of law, or provide you with all the connections you will need to establish a successful legal practice, but the strategic application of LinkedIn, can assist you in establishing both.