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A Tool for Lawyers in Transition: LinkedIn

BY JESSICA THALER

LinkedIn can be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal during a time of career transition. It not only allows you to research people and companies who may ultimately serve as future employers, colleagues, collaborators or clients, but also introduces you to an expanded group of mentors, advisors and sources of relevant information. No matter your current position, having an extensive network is important, and LinkedIn is a great instrument for the maintenance and growth of that invaluable network.

When I speak to people in transition, or those who are thinking about exploring the possibilities, after ensuring they have an up-to-date resume, I inquire if they are on LinkedIn. Too often, the answer is that they are not. People often express concerns about their employer finding out about their LinkedIn profile - thus fearing that they are putting their job at risk - or will make the excuse that there just has not been enough time to set up a profile. "Is it really that helpful?", they will ask. Without hesitation or qualification, my answer is "yes." And although the task might seem daunting, LinkedIn makes the profile-creation process easy.

Head Shots

In setting up a profile, it is important to keep in mind that this is a professional venue. I have seen friends post the fun-loving profile shot that they use on Facebook; I have also seen head shots taken with cell phones while the subject was looking into a bathroom mirror. (This makes me shake my head like a disapproving mother.) Make sure your profile picture is of the type you would expect to see on a firm's webpage. Don't have the financial resources to hire a professional photographer? When I was developing my profile, I put on a suit, grabbed my camera and a friend, went to a library, and had her photograph me in front of a wall of books. I (we) felt silly but it was better than the bathroom-mirror shot. Eventually, through alumni and bar association involvement, I participated in professional photo shoots so that those organizations could have photographs of me that they could use in their materials. I asked permission to use several of these photos to update my LinkedIn profile picture, as well as my professional biography.

Work History and Educational Experience

Once your profile picture is chosen and uploaded, complete your work history and educational experience. Some people list only the names of what they think are the relevant entities and the titles of the positions they have held. Others, like me, more or less populate these fields with the extensive information contained in their resumes, and everything in between. In my opinion, the more information the better, so long as that information is germane, as it allows people a complete picture of your qualifications and experience. There is a caveat, however. There is such a thing as "too much" information, especially if the information is irrelevant or can become overwhelming to the reader. Where to draw the line depends on both your preferences and those of the intended consumer of the information. The rule I use is if I cannot read it through two or three times without getting distracted or losing interest, it is too long. Also, when I first put my profile up and whenever I make any significant changes, I ask a few trusted friends (a former supervisor and other career professionals I have worked with) to read my profile. As it so often happens, of course, if you ask six people, you will get six opinions. Ultimately, you have to decide what you are comfortable with. You can control how you present yourself and not how you are perceived. Accept the risk that someone may not like your profile and hope that is the exception and not the rule.

Making Connections

When your profile is up, it is time to start making connections. In my first attempt, I made a rookie mistake. LinkedIn will prompt you to allow it to tap into your email address book, wherever it is stored, and retrieve contact information. Once retrieved, it is very easy to click, click, click and send a mass invitation to connect. This sounded like a fantastic, easy and efficient way to get a LinkedIn network together. What I did not realize at the time was that not everyone is on or wants to be on LinkedIn and, once the request goes out, the system will continue to "remind" possibly to the point of annoyance invitees of the outstanding and yet-to-be-accepted invitation. Then I realized that when LinkedIn pulled my contacts into the system, it marked those who were also on LinkedIn with a little blue box containing the word "in" next to their names. So I focused on pursuing those contacts to be my LinkedIn connections, understanding that they would likely be more likely to accept because they too are using LinkedIn to expand their network.

Once your initial connections are established, LinkedIn will provide you with a list of "people you may know." LinkedIn surprised me with its accuracy. I suspect that the LinkedIn system uses a matrix to compare common connections, common learning institutions, common employers and the like in compiling these suggestions. I continue to look at LinkedIn's suggestions for potential connections. As I meet people through the more traditional methods of networking, I add them to my network, and LinkedIn's suggestions continue to grow.

Another option for enhancing a profile and, therefore, LinkedIn presence, is to join groups. I looked at professional groups, those based on my past employers, school affiliations and associations I was a part of, as well as other affinity groups. There really isn't a downfall to joining many groups outside of the fact that each group may send multiple notices to its members and your inbox may get flooded. (You can change your settings to manage how often emails are received.) Groups often use listserves to share information on trends, current issues, job opportunities and otherwise. Joining a group demonstrates to the LinkedIn community your interest in a particular subject, industry or other issue.

Recommendations

A great feature of LinkedIn is the ability to receive and post recommendations from former clients, employers or colleagues. As wonderful as it may be to have nice things published about you, it is still important that the recommendations are relevant and realistic. If the recommendations are "just too much" or if they appear contrived (i.e., a friend's recommendation is on a personal rather than a professional level), they are probably more detrimental than beneficial. I have sought, and continue to seek, recommendations from people in each stage of my personal and professional career but only after I have had the opportunity to work and collaborate in some real and significant capacity with them. This allows each person to honestly and knowledgably speak to my skills, strengths and otherwise. I provide recommendations to others utilizing a similar "rule." I only offer recommendations for people, focusing on the skills and strengths of those people, with whom I am very familiar.

Research

LinkedIn can also be utilized to obtain relevant information about people and companies. When trying to connect with a company, whether in anticipation of an interview for employment or business development purposes, search for the company on LinkedIn. If the company has a profile, it provides a source of information that can supplement the information available in periodicals or on the company's proprietary website. LinkedIn will also show who you know, directly or indirectly, at that company. The direct connection is easy to identify and understand - someone part of your LinkedIn community is currently, or was previously, at that company. Where I find such a connection, I immediately reach out to that person, ask about the company, the person(s) I am scheduled or trying to meet, the position or project and possibly get the assistance of that person in getting ahead in the process. Even an indirect connection can be just as useful. The indirect connection shows someone in your network who has someone in his or her network who is at or was at that company. When I have this "second degree" connection, I will request that my "first degree" connection make an introduction to that "second degree" connection who can then provide me with the information or "in" I am seeking.

Similarly, before a scheduled meeting, check to see if the person with whom you are meeting is on LinkedIn. If he or she is, you can get information about that person, his or her interests, background and network; that knowledge can aid in your trying to connect. For example, it has allowed me to mention people known-in-common (granted, only after confirming that relationship is a current and amicable one), recognize and reminisce about a common university experience and so on. LinkedIn also allows you to look up someone you do not know and want to connect with but do not yet have a meeting with. You can see if there is someone in your network who might be willing to make an introduction. Just like with anything else, however, you need to consider how often you ask someone, respect what, if anything, the person is willing to do and the manner in which he or she is willing to do it. And be willing to reciprocate.

I personally have not made great use of the LinkedIn groups feature, although I know many who have, and I have only rarely posted into discussion groups. A danger with becoming too involved with posting is that, in attempting to get your name out, it can be easy to become an annoyance. Every time there is a post into a group's discussion page, the site sends out a notice of a new post to the group's members; so, if a member (who may be just the person someone is trying to impress) has not altered the default email settings, his or her inbox may be loaded with notices about the "serial" poster's latest musing. I have actually heard some colleagues commenting that they have unsubscribed from a group because of serial posts, and their impression of that poster is irreversibly marred.

Should You Get a Subscription?

Finally, do you need to get a paid subscription to get true benefit from using LinkedIn? My opinion is that it is not necessary. I like that the subscription service provides the ability to email people directly even if they are not a connection through the "in-mail" feature, that I can see who has viewed my profile as well as statistics regarding the number of views my profile receives and, when I submit for a job requisition, I am provided with greater information about the position, such as salary information, and can check a box to make my resume a "featured" application. Whether you need or want those or the other additional features that a paid subscription may provide depends on your personal goals and intended usage of the site.

Conclusion

Maintaining a network and a LinkedIn profile needs to be an ongoing endeavor. LinkedIn should be used, in whatever manner and however extensively a person is comfortable with, as a tool for professional networking and development. Most great opportunities come from whom you know, and LinkedIn provides a way to know more people. LinkedIn is also a great marketing tool. It is a personal website, demonstrating experiences and expertise and providing forums in which to share and from which to gather information. Like any other tool, however, you need to use it properly and appropriately not to be injured rather than assisted by it.

JESSICA THALER (jthaleresq@gmail.com), Law Offices of Jessica Thaler Esq., chairs the Committee on Lawyers in Transition of the New York State Bar Association. She received her undergraduate degree, cum laude, from UCLA and her law degree from Fordham University.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 22, 2013 10:15 AM.

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