Daily Dispatch

Social Media Basics

Should Lawyers Connect with Competitors on LinkedIn?

By | May.15.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Marketing, Social Media

LinkedIn, endorsements

Despite LinkedIn’s reputation as the social networking site for professionals, there are still skeptics who question its value. Most of the skepticism among lawyers arises from questions of confidentiality. That’s natural. Holding information close is ingrained by the time you sit down to take the bar exam. But LinkedIn is marketing, not lawyering—and it’s tough to get someone to buy when you’re being cagey about things.

LinkedIn Is Where You Make Connections, Not Break Them

Lawyers new to LinkedIn frequently wonder how wise it is to accept LinkedIn connection invites from competitors. What a strange question! In the world of LinkedIn, it’s a given you will go ahead and connect with as many people you know, like and trust. So, if you know and trust a competitor or potential competitor, then by all means connect! Haven’t you, all along, been going to bar association conferences and exchanging business cards with opposing counsel as a way to expand your network and stimulate referrals and introductions? This is no different.

Some lawyers say they’re concerned that by linking to competitors it will allow competitors to sneak in, pour over the connections list and steal clients. Well, here’s what I say to that.

  1. It’s not that easy. If all a lawyer needs to know is the name, title and company of a client to steal that person away from current counsel … what are all those marketing books and webinars about, anyway?
  2. It’s still not that easy. If you think another lawyer could actually steal your clients by sending them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn … if that’s all it takes, why aren’t you out there linking and stealing? Could it be because you know it takes a lot more than that? Sure, there are people who aggressively invite connections with people they don’t know, just to get their numbers up … or because they perceive the person to be powerful, inspiring or whatever. But those people won’t be able to leverage LinkedIn in any effective way. LinkedIn is a tool powered by existing relationships of all kinds.
  3. You can’t just send a cold invitation to connect. No one in their right mind invites people they do not know to connect with them, anyway. One, it doesn’t work. Two, read the user agreement (particularly the “dos and don’ts”). Unless your competition already knows that client of yours, they won’t be able to connect without jumping through a few hoops. They will need to get you or someone else to make the introduction or connection for them. (Yes, there are ways to get around this, but … really?)
  4. Jerks are jerks wherever they are. If you remain convinced that anyone you might connect with could be that sort of aggressive predator, then you don’t really “know, like and trust them”—and probably wouldn’t give them the time of day in the real world, let alone link up with them, would you?
  5. You can lock it up. You do know there is no way for a competitor to see that one of your connections is your client, right? All they will know is that they are a connection. And they won’t even be able to know that if you adjust your privacy settings. Simply click on “settings,” “select who can see your connections,” choose “only you” and then “save.” If that’s what you want to do.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton.

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4 Responses to “Should Lawyers Connect with Competitors on LinkedIn?”

  1. Bob Denney
    15 May 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Merrilyn,

    Great post!!!!

    Bob D.

  2. Fay S.
    15 May 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Great post and for the most part, right on target. I would, however, vehemently disagree with #3. Lots of people send cold invitations to connect, and it does absolutely work. Maybe it’s frowned upon, maybe it violates LinkedIn’s terms of service, but it’s absolutely done and when done right, can be very effective. (And no, I’m not an aggressive predator, but I am a savvy competitor, and I will pull away market share where I can).

    The better point not made here is that your clients are being targeted by competitors anyway, via all means of social media, as well as traditional (old fashioned) marketing. Being on LinkedIn or connected to them, won’t change that. In fact, connecting to them might actually put a face to the name, and will make your competition less ruthless, since they can see that there is an actual person on the other side.

    I have found that following/being connected to my competitors (a lot of them) allows me to see what they’re interested in/working on/reading/talking about. It also allows me to evaluate them, see what I’m up against, and learn from their successes and mistakes. Sometimes, it even leads to collaboration on deals that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

    If nothing else, the old adage comes to mind: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. (insert evil laughter here).

  3. Nancy Myrland
    21 May 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Good post, Merrilyn!

    I agree that it is a good idea to connect with our competitors on LinkedIn. How much time are others really going to spend pouring over our growing number of connections, trying to figure out which are clients, which are friends, which are colleagues, which are classmates, etc.? If they have that much time on their hands, they have larger problems than the need to poach our clients.

    It’s also wise to watch our competitors to see how they do business, what they are sharing, to glean ideas about how we can do our jobs better, and to stay on top of our practice areas as much as possible, and that means learning from others who also focus on our practice areas.

    Referrals also come from competitors who are conflicted out of certain matters, so there are all kinds of reasons to connect with them on LinkedIn as well as many others places, both on- and offline.


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