Emily Miller and Susan Kench explain how LinkedIn can help smaller law firms to generate and support the relationships that grow their client base

For many small and medium-sized law firms, employing a dedicated professional to plan, implement and evaluate a business development or marketing strategy is not a realistic option. Nevertheless, today’s legal marketplace is cluttered with competitors, increasingly informed consumers, new configurations of legal service providers, and marketing messages coming from every device with a screen.

So, as we turn our attention from the fast disappearing year to planning for the next, how can smaller law firms, without the large budgets available to the big city players, successfully grow their bottom line in 2016?

Is LinkedIn the answer for small law firms?

LinkedIn, the preeminent professional online networking platform has been used since 2003 by millions of professionals – current global membership is recorded at 400 million – to successfully build business-to-business relationships that generate both repeat and new business.

Lawyers have always relied on networking and personal relationships to grow and reinforce their client base – and for smaller practices, this is still their most effective business development strategy. However, the potential compatibility of LinkedIn with your current methods for attracting and keeping clients is clear; while LinkedIn can never be a substitute for the face-to-face relationship building that transforms a faceless service provider into a trusted adviser, it can, if used effectively, be an invaluable tool to generate and then support those relationships in a way that’s unparalleled in terms of time and cost.

Some statistics

LinkedIn is a vast reservoir of potential professional relationships just waiting to be developed.

  • Every second, LinkedIn acquires two new members – current membership in the UK is 19 million and rising.
  • 80% of LinkedIn members influence the business decisions within their organisations.
  • Over 50% of members are employed by a SME.
  • In the UK, more than 350,000 LinkedIn members are managing directors or CEOs.
  • 45,000 LinkedIn members are recorded as either company directors or board members.
  • Members are nearly 50% more likely to purchase from a company they engage with on LinkedIn according to research carried out by marketing consultancy Hubspot.

The stats certainly make a good business case for throwing your hat into the LinkedIn ring. But how exactly does all this data translate into bringing you more clients or keeping the ones you have?

Is LinkedIn really worth YOUR time?

Reviewing how legal services are sourced today offers an answer. Peer-to-peer referrals are still, undoubtedly, the most popular method for finding legal services. However, according to research carried out by BTI, current buyers of legal services have added another step before getting in touch with a legal professional they have been referred to – buyers now conduct an online search for that person. This means that today personal recommendation and online search are inextricably linked. Who amongst us has been referred to a service provider by a friend or colleague and then gone straight to our computer or phone to Google that name to find out more? I would guess the answer is most of us.

So if a potential client will more than likely Google you before they pick up the phone, the question then becomes: what will they find?.

Google ranks social networks highly, which means that if you have a LinkedIn profile, it will almost always appear on the first page of a search on your name, and sometimes even above your website. You cannot control where your prospect will click, so if your LinkedIn profile is sparsely filled out or if you are not on LinkedIn at all, chances are your prospect will move swiftly to the next recommendation on the list who may have a much better profile to offer.

Be an ‘All-Star’ on LinkedIn

Whether you like it or not, your online presence is now a fundamental piece of your professional brand. But what exactly should a ‘good’ LinkedIn profile include? LinkedIn has a set of prescribed formulas that determine how much weight to give your profile in LinkedIn searches for your name and/or profession. In order to appear higher up searches, your profile should rank as an ‘All Star’. Effectively this means ensuring that your profile, at a minimum, includes the following:

  • your industry/sector and your business postal code;
  • a current position with a description;
  • two more positions (either current or previous);
  • your education;
  • at least 5 skills;
  • a profile photo (a professional one, please!); and
  • at least 50 connections.

TIP: To find out if your profile ranks as an ‘All-Star’, click on ‘Profile’ on the top menu on the left-hand side. Your profile ranking is shown as a partially / almost filled circle on the top right of your profile page.

Additional ways to ensure your ‘All-Star’ status, include:

1. Keyword Optimisation

To further boost your ranking in LinkedIn searches, it’s essential to add in keywords to your headliner, (underneath your name at the top of your profile – see below), your current position title, previous job titles (if relevant), as well as peppered throughout your position descriptions and summary.

In the same way that you would look for a product or service on Google, think about what search terms your prospective client or referrer/strategic partner would key in to find someone with your expertise.

emily miller linked in

2. Summary

Your summary is the synopsis of your professional experience and the most appropriate spot for weaving in your personality as a way to create a really standout profile. This is where you should highlight your expertise and identify the benefits you bring to your clients. A well drafted, informative and engaging summary can determine whether a visitor decides to keep reading or click on to the next person - a potential competitor - on the search list.

3. Recommendations & Endorsements

In an age where peer-generated product/service reviews are regularly included in a consumer’s purchasing process, having a number of well written recommendations and numerous endorsements for relevant expertise will add substantial weight to your profile’s visibility and credibility.

Emily Miller and Susan Kench are LinkedIn trainers at Marshall Walker Associatesan independent LinkedIn training company. It specialises in helping professionals in the legal, accountancy and wealth management sectors improve their presence on LinkedIn and to use LinkedIn as an effective tool to support their business development and marketing activities. It provides a range of services, including online training.

If you have any questions on the ideas or suggestions raised in this article or if you would like to discuss how LinkedIn could support your firm’s business development strategy, please contact Emily Miller or Susan Kench or visit our website.

Emily Miller is co-author of LinkedIn for Lawyers: Developing a Profile to Grow Your Practice.