Even lawyers who don’t practice in New York might want to take note of a formal opinion released this month by the New York County Lawyers Association Professional Ethics Committee.
The opinion advises: “[I]f any attorney chooses to include information such as practice areas, skills, endorsements or recommendations, the attorney must treat his or her LinkedIn profile as attorney advertising and include appropriate disclaimers pursuant to Rule 7.1.”
What does this mean? That the summary section in every lawyer’s LinkedIn profile should include the phrase, “Attorney Advertising.” If the LinkedIn profile includes 100 percent biographical information, lawyers are excluded from this requirement.
Where should the disclaimer be placed? I suggest at the bottom of the lawyers’ LinkedIn summaries. The New York committee hasn’t provided direct guidance, so we have to analogize from the Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4, which says, “Online advertisements must be labeled ‘Attorney Advertising’ on the first page or on the home page in the case of a website.” RPC 7.1(c).
There are three other significant recommendations in this opinion:
1. Lawyers must continuously monitor their “Skills” sections and remove any items that are incorrect or endorsements that are wrong or misleading (for example, a matrimonial lawyer endorsed for complex transactions.) How often is continuously? According to the opinion, it does not mean daily or weekly, but “periodically, on reasonable intervals.”
2. Categorizing one’s practice areas or experience under a heading such as “Skills” or “Experience” is allowed and does not run afoul of Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4, as long as the sections are accurate.
3. Using the “Skills” section is not the same as claiming to be a “specialist,” as long as you don’t use the word “specialist.”
How should your firm respond? Does it need to quickly add the phrase “Attorney Advertising” at the bottom of all LinkedIn summaries? That is what the opinion recommends but—since my research into thousands of LinkedIn profiles suggests that more than one-third of lawyers have completely blank summary sections—the real battle may be to convince some lawyers to log on.
Then again, if they won’t listen to the marketing department’s pleas to update their profiles, maybe a specific recommendation from the ethics committee will get their attention.
Even if you’re not one of the nearly 88,000 lawyers practicing in Manhattan, you might want to follow the example of one top law firm I work with. It requires every lawyer to include a disclaimer at the bottom of their LinkedIn summary—regardless of where they practice.
Are you proud to be a lawyer? You do realize that when doctors were still using leeches, lawyers were drafting the Constitution?
I bring this up because too many lawyers shy away from attention. I’ve spoken to thousands of lawyers about using LinkedIn and Twitter to increase their visibility and build their practices, and how do they reply?
“I just don’t want to annoy people in my network,” one lawyer told me.
“My wife told me when I posted twice in one week it was way too much,” another said only yesterday.
“I don’t want my family and friends connected to me on LinkedIn to see my legal articles.”
Which misses the entire point.
Listen, you don’t realize how much you know or how much you have to offer your network. Even basic information about your practice area can help some of your contacts. If your uncle isn’t interested, he can unfollow you on LinkedIn.
(Did you know you can do that? Just click on the top right of any post you aren’t interested in and click: “Unfollow.” You also can select: “Unfollow all posts from this person.” They aren’t notified, nobody gets hurt feelings — they just won’t see your posts.)
The great thing about unfollowing people and posts is that it makes LinkedIn (or Facebook or Twitter for that matter) more useful to you. It allows you to curate the content you receive. Other people can do the same. The goal of sharing updates to LinkedIn isn’t to please everybody, but to educate and give insights to the people most likely to send you business or hire you.
What’s the worst that can happen? Readers might unfollow your posts. What’s the best that can happen? People will pay attention to you. Important: That is a good thing.
“I don’t want my whole network seeing that I’ve just added a summary to my LinkedIn account,” at least one lawyer says in every group I address.
“Of course not,” I might respond, with a dose of sarcasm. “Having your network pay attention to you would be pretty much the worst thing in the world.”
You are a lawyer. Be proud of it. Embrace it.
There is a great moment at the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Atticus Finch’s client has unjustly has been found guilty. Taking on the trial has put Finch’s reputation and his family at risk, but it was the right thing to do. As Finch turns to walk out of the courtroom, the Rev. Sykes says to Finch’s daughter, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.”
This moment makes me proud to be a lawyer. I hope that all lawyers can not only be proud of what they do, but have confidence that their knowledge can benefit their community both online and off.
One of the lessons we learn at our parents’ knee is the importance of sharing. Share your toys, share your popcorn. Don’t share the caterpillar you picked up off the ground. As we get older and — dare I say? — more cynical, we spend ever more time trying to figure out how to share less. When it comes to sharing articles on LinkedIn, Twitter and even by email, we need to embrace our inner toy-sharing toddler.
• Sharing keeps you top-of-mind with clients and prospects. Think about it: When you need to hire someone quickly, you go with someone you know. When you share updates on LinkedIn, you stay on people’s minds — but not in an in-your-face style, because you are adding value.
• Sharing adds value for your clients off the balance sheet. You clients hate that the billable meter is running every time they call you, but when you share content they feel they are getting something of value from you off the clock.
• Sharing helps build your personal brand. What do I mean by personal brand? Your reputation for a specific specialty. During a conference I overheard the general counsel of a large company say, “I know he’s an expert on this topic — he’s tweeting about it all the time.” Building a personal brand does require you to choose an area of focus. There is no way around that. To build a personal brand, you absolutely need to focus.
• Sharing educates your network. This education takes two forms: First, it educates your existing and potential clients about changes in the legal environment. Maybe even more important, it allows your entire network, packed with potential referral sources, to learn more about what you do and how you can help. The vast majority of your connections know you are a lawyer, but do they not what kind? Do they have a clue what type of work they should refer to you?
• Sharing allows you to get in front of the people most likely to hire from you now. Let’s be honest — a total stranger isn’t very likely to hire you, but the people in your network already know you and have a certain level of trust in you. Sharing is your best chance of bringing in new business now.
There are myriad excuses not to share — “I don’t want to give it all away for free” is the most common. But that’s ridiculous. When you share, you aren’t telling people what to do about their specific problem — they need your focused legal advice for that. This isn’t a cookie that, once you give it away, is gone. These are ideas, and a shared idea can be viewed by hundreds or even thousands of people. The ideas you share can work for you all day, every day, even when you are sleeping.
A rising tide lifts all boats. When you give value to the universe, you always get back more in return. Get on LinkedIn and start sharing. It’s not just for kids anymore.