Three Things for Law Firms to Avoid on LinkedIn (and Two to Be Wary Of)

Lawyers love LinkedIn, and it’s not hard to see why. Of all the major social media platforms, LinkedIn’s focus on business gives it a suitable aura of professionalism. It offers multiple ways to share content and showcase law firm expertise. And it can be a robust networking tool — an eye-opening 98 percent of respondents to the American Bar Association’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey reported they use LinkedIn for that purpose.

But like any tool, it can be destructive if not used properly. Part of that proper usage involves LinkedIn etiquette. Failure to observe the right behavior can harm your reputation, and perhaps even make a dent in your livelihood.
Here, then, are three things to avoid on LinkedIn.

1. Don’t think you have to accept every invitation to connect

Get a connection request from someone you don’t know? Probably wise to simply ignore or graciously decline it. Yes, it looks good to have a large network of connections. But quality and your hard-earned reputation are more important than quantity when it comes to those connections.

2. Don’t post updates that have nothing to do with your practice

When you share items via a Status Update or a LinkedIn professional group — an excellent habit that can demonstrate your knowledge and authority — make sure they’re germane to your firm’s practice or the discussion at hand.

3. Don’t hard-sell

LinkedIn is about building relationships, and relationships need nurturing. Posting something like “If you’re looking for reputable experience in real estate transactions, give me a call” can make you look like a huckster. It could also get you in trouble with your local bar association.

You can summarize all these etiquette points in one phrase: Don’t be careless. And that phrase should carry over to the maintenance of your LinkedIn page. Make sure that you have all your information up to date (and include a professional head shot).

There are also caveats about LinkedIn that don’t fall under the category of etiquette, but they do involve proper use of it as a legal marketing tool:

Skills

During the past couple of years, bar associations in Philadelphia, Florida and New York State have rendered opinions against attorneys claiming expertise on LinkedIn in areas in which they haven’t been certified. Since LinkedIn replaced its “Skills and Expertise” field with “Specialties” in early 2012, this has become less of a potential ethical sinkhole. But keep in mind ABA Model Rule 7.1, which states that a lawyer can’t make any false or misleading claims about his or her services. You should list your practices on LinkedIn, of course. But don’t claim any “expertise” outside of them.

Endorsements

Similarly, if a client or colleague endorses you for a specialty for which you aren’t certified, that could get you in hot water from a legal-ethics perspective. Best to remove any misleading endorsements from your profile.

Finally, when it comes to skills, endorsements or any other uncertainties about LinkedIn (or any form of social media, for that matter), check with your local bar association on what’s appropriate. And remember: Ethical rules also apply to online behavior.

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