How to Avoid the Most Serious Mistake Lawyers Make on LinkedIn

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.

New General Counsel: Not Like the Prior GC

Too many corporate law firms are missing a startlingly obvious message when a company hires a new General Counsel.

When a new boss is on board your basic reaction could fall into one of two camps. You could subscribe to the theory that, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” This is sometimes also described as, “meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”  Or you could assume that the hiring of a new general counsel signals that “a new sheriff is in town.”

Recent survey data suggests that outside counsel aren’t fully appreciating the significance of the recent crop of newly hired General Counsel, and aren’t taking adequate steps to please them.  Specifically, a survey conducted by the BTI Consulting Group, which is analyzed in an August 5, 2015 blog post, shows that more than a third of new General Counsel have terminated longstanding outside counsel in the last year, up from 23% the prior year. And often times, the changes takes place within 15 months of the new GC’s arrival.

Given the seismic changes that are taking place in law firms that serve the business community, it shouldn’t be necessary to point out to outside law firms that the arrival of a new general counsel is potentially big news. But apparently some law firm leaders need this remedial explanation. Here is how the BTI blog put it:

Consider any announcement of a new GC a wake up call. Working styles, goals, objectives, and law firm preferences are going to change. The biggest complaint from new GCs: Law firms continue to work in the style their predecessor liked—and the newcomer doesn’t. This does not bode well for leaving a client-focused first impression.

Perhaps it would be easier if lawyers analyzed this from the perspective of a replacement of a judge in the middle of trial. No competent lawyer would assume that the presence of the new judge was immaterial. It would be prudent to learn something of the new judge’s preferences, including perhaps talking to lawyers who have previously appeared before the judge.  The same kind of preparation is an absolute must when a new GC is hired.

The fact that this kind of analysis needs to be shared is itself an indication that some lawyers still haven’t gotten the message. This is also a signal to law firms of all sizes that they shouldn’t discount their chances of unseating an incumbent law firm. There is little to lose by trying to making a personalized and specific approach to the new GC. Perhaps you will be competing against a sleepy incumbent firm that fails to appreciate that a new sheriff is in town.