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Social Media Basics

Should Lawyers Connect with Competitors on LinkedIn?

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

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.

More Good Information About Using LinkedIn on Attorney at Work:

 

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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is 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. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. Learn more about Merrilyn here and follow her @astintarlton.

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