Linked in or Left Out: ‘Supercharge’ Your Interactions Through Social Networking

  • July 17, 2008
  • Janet Ellen Raasch

A strong and targeted social network – or “who you know” – has always been essential to a lawyer’s professional success. But face-to-face networking has its limits.

A lawyer’s ability to network with clients and potential clients in a face-to-face setting is limited by geographical location and a shortage of time. In addition, it is limited by the fact that many potential referral relationships are “hidden” – and unlikely to come up in the course of casual conversation.

“Social networking sites bring the kind of interaction that lawyers and other professionals enjoy in ‘live’ business, industry, professional, civic, religious, charitable and personal interest groups onto the Internet – and supercharge it,” says Kevin O’Keefe, president of Lexblog ( “In addition, they reveal ‘hidden’ relationships.”

“With a broadband connection, a lawyer can reach his or her social network from anywhere,” says Toronto-based technology business lawyer and blogger Rob Hyndman ( “Traditionally, lawyers have congregated in the downtowns of large cities. Online social networking will potentially reduce our dependence on large cities as the only environment where we can meet and interact with each other.

“In addition, online social networking is an example of the power of the Internet to equalize the impression that can be created by a small versus a large law firm,” says Hyndman. “It is now possible for a very small law firm – even a sole practitioner – to create a strong, professional brand. A great website and professional online identity go a very long way. Social networking extends and leverages that brand.”

Increasingly, lawyers and law firms are making use of popular social networks like LinkedIn (, Facebook ( and MySpace (

All social networks allow a user to do three basic things – create an online profile, build a personal network of connections, and search both personal networks and the entire network to find individuals who share professional or personal interests. Most allow these networks to form and interact through groups.

Create a Professional Profile

The first use of an online social network is to create a detailed professional profile to serve as your digital identity.

Each social network site has a different profile format. A LinkedIn profile is straight-forward and businesslike. A Facebook or MySpace profile is more creative, and can be customized by “mashing up” a wide range of applications – like music, photos, video and text messaging. Different kinds of profiles appeal to different kinds of clients.

“A profile is a lawyer’s online personality,” says Mike O’Neil, president of Denver-based Integrated Alliances (, a firm that teaches executives to network using LinkedIn. “A profile serves as an online resume, an advertisement and a web page. As such, it should be carefully crafted and marketing-oriented.”

Every word in a social network profile is indexed by search engines, so be sure to include relevant keywords in the content. If you have a website or a blog, your social networking profile can be linked to either one – or both. A link to your profile in your e-mail signature allows others to easily view your professional skills and expertise.

Boston-area-based patent and trademark attorney Erik J. Heels is a Canadian trade mark agent who has a complex online identity. He collects all of his digital activities into a single “metapage” ( On this page, visitors can find his law firm Website, profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace, newsletter, The Legal List (the first book ever published simultaneously on the Internet and in print), blog, book reviews written for Amazon, and the website of his band.

Unlike a biography on a law firm website or contacts in a law firm CRM system, your digital identity and connections on a social network site are owned by you. Even if you change firms or employers, your digital identity stays online, working for you.

Build Your Professional Network

A second use of an online social network is to build a network of your connections. “I like to call LinkedIn a Rolodex of your entire life—on steroids,” says O’Keefe.

In LinkedIn, you can opt to keep all or some of your network private. “I know some lawyers who keep their connections private,” says Heels. “But if you do this, you’re less useful to your prospective connections. If you are afraid that other lawyers will steal your clients simply by virtue of knowing who they are, then you’ve got big problems. If you would try to steal clients from another, then you’ve got even bigger problems.”

LinkedIn has a tool that will scan your existing contact files (in Outlook, Google, Yahoo, Hotmail and others) to let you know which individuals you know are already in the social network you have joined. If a contact is in the network, you can ask this contact to be your “connection.” If a contact is not in the network, you can “invite” the person to join, create a profile and become your connection.

“The LinkedIn add-in for Outlook helps me enlarge my contact list by accessing my network’s contacts,” says Dominic Jaar, in-house counsel at Bell Canada.

“Moreover, it reminds me of the last time I contacted someone,” says Jaar. “This feature can prove very useful to maintain high-quality service and to show that you care about your client. If I ever go back to private practice, LinkedIn is going to be one of my key business development, maintenance and marketing tools.”

With permission, LinkedIn tracks your connections (people you know), their connections, and the connections of their connections – to three degrees of separation.

“Prompted by a client, I started using LinkedIn a couple of years ago,” says Brock Smith, a partner with the technology and intellectual property group of Clark Wilson ( in Vancouver. “At least a dozen of my colleagues have since joined. We like that we can track relationships – who knows whom among clients and other business partners, especially venture capitalists and bankers in a global marketplace.”

A person who is invited to be a connection has a number of choices. After reviewing your profile, the person can accept the invitation, reject it or archive it for future consideration.

To preserve the integrity of the network, it is recommended that you only accept invitations for someone you know and trust – or invitations that are mediated by someone you know and trust.

Search Your Social Network

A third use of an online social network is to search for individuals who share your professional and personal interests. You can search for research purposes or you can search in order to expand your network.

“I can search for LinkedIn members located in Toronto, where my office is,” says civil litigator Lloyd Hoffer, ( “By reviewing profiles, I can identify people who are potential clients or other contacts and ask to meet them – in person or via email or phone. Not everyone accepts, but I have made new and useful contacts.”

Lawyers and law firms can also use social networking sites to research parties in the course of legal and criminal investigations. “I often search LinkedIn members by business names and domain types,” says Bell Canada’s Jaar. “I mostly do this to identify expertise when I need a court expert.”

LinkedIn recently added the ability for a user to “ask a question” of his or her network – or post an answer to someone else’s question. “The Q&A feature serves a triple purpose,” says Hoffer, “one, to facilitate useful exchanges of information; two, to enable new connections; and three, to provide public exposure of your skills and expertise.

In fact, quite a few of the quotes for this article were based to the author’s question posted on LinkedIn and individual lawyers’ answers to the question.

Professional online social networks are popular with recruiters, who pay extra in order to post jobs and search the network for individuals with particular job skills.

“I’m a bit surprised that there hasn’t been a major law student recruiting initiative before now,” says Steve Matthews, principal at Stem Legal Web Enterprises (, a Canada-based Web-profile-building service for law firms. “Students get this type of communication – in a way that makes firm brochures and even websites seem outdated.”

While job boards like feature the resumes of individuals who are actively looking for work, online social networks are rich with the profiles of successful experts who are not actively looking for work, but might be willing to consider the right offer.

Recruiters can search LinkedIn to find the names of connections who worked with a job candidate at a particular time and contact them for references.

Job seekers who are considering a firm or a company can search the network to find the names of people who work or once worked there – and gain valuable information about the culture at the employer they are considering.

Join or Create a Group

On an online social network, you can join a group of others who share a professional or personal interest. These can be public groups, where anyone can join, or private groups, where participation must be approved by a “group manager” before access is granted.

“It is a one-click process to affiliate your profile with a group in Facebook,” says Matthews, “so while the time investment is almost nothing, demonstrating your affiliation can be a real positive.”

An existing group can be put into an online social network. The online social network platform allows group organizers to manage the roster, communicate with members and provide group members with valuable online professional networking tools.

If no group exists, one can be created. “If I was trying to build my network of referral sources, and I practiced in Patent law,” says Matthews, “I might be tempted to create a Patent attorney’s group.

“In this group, I would welcome each new member with a nice group introduction email,” says Matthews. “That could be followed up by an exchange on some specifics about my practice, and then an invitation to join my personal network. See how this works? It’s not just the tool, it’s about working the tool in a strategic way.”

Denise Howell, Dennis Kennedy, Tom Mighell, Marty Schwimmer and Ernie Svenson are co-authors of Between Lawyers (, a popular blog. To improve communication with each other and their readers, the authors created a Between Lawyers Facebook group ( According to the site, “Because the Between Lawyers authors spend more time gabbing with each other via email than posting to their blog, they decided to try moving those discussions to a Facebook group – where their friends/readers(s) can play along.”

In early 2007, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen launched Ning (, a tool that allows people to create custom social-networking communities. Users can select from a menu of additional features they want to “mash up” with their social network, like videos, photos, discussion forums or blogs. Ning is free to groups that accept ads on their home pages and $20 (U.S.) a month for those that wish to remain ad-free.

The Social Elite


LinkedIn was created in 2003 specifically as an online social network for business professionals. Its demographics are older and wealthier than those of other sites.

By mid-2007, the site had 13 million participants and had received two prestigious Webby Awards ( Some of the larger law firms in Canada have 100 or more LinkedIn members indicating a connection to the firm.

“LinkedIn caters to the white-collar crowd, hungry for leads, recommendations and job opportunities,” says Rick Aristotle Munarriz at investment site The Motley Fool ( “Let’s call it a networking social site instead of a social-networking site, because LinkedIn is really all about corporate networking.”

Although a basic account is free, LinkedIn earns significant income by selling a range of premium subscription levels (with additional features), targeted advertising, and advanced search privileges for large employers and corporate recruiters.

A leading lawyer-user of LinkedIn is Toronto-based lawyer Chris Koressis (, who has 355 first-degree connections (and tens of thousands of second and hundreds of thousands third-degree connections). Koressis has successfully used this network to make contacts and build a book of business among his target market – mid-sized companies.

Koressis also hosts his own online social network ( in order to promote networking among the executives in his network. The group interacts online, but also holds regular face-to-face gatherings.


Facebook launched in 2004 as an online version of the traditional Harvard University facebook – a publication to help incoming students to get to know each other. It quickly spread to other schools in the Ivy League, then to all colleges, then to high school students, then, in Sept. 2006, to the world at large.

Because of its origins, Facebook is a popular site for reaching and influencing college graduates. It is the fastest-growing online social network—as of November 2007 Facebook boasted over 51 million active users, including over six million in Canada. It is the most popular Web destination in the country. Toronto is second only to London in number of Facebook users.

Facebook is especially distinguished by its ability to create useful groups. Of the ten largest law firms in the United States, eight have created groups in Facebook with hundreds of members organized around a wide variety of topics. Among the top ten law firms in Canada, seven have Facebook groups – mostly for summer associates.

In May 2007, London-based Allen & Overy ( issued a firm-wide ban on Facebook – which was quickly revoked after a strong reaction from the firm’s 932 Facebook users. In a press release, firm IT director Dave Burwell says: “We now realize that Facebook is used by many people for networking – for business purposes as well as social. As a result, we are going to open up access to the site again.”


With 115 million users, MySpace is the largest and oldest mainstream social networking site. In 2005, MySpace was purchased by NewsCorp for $580 million (U.S.). In 2006, Google paid $900 million (U.S.) for the exclusive rights to place text-based ads on MySpace (and other News Corp. sites). Obviously, big business sees an opportunity.

Because of its youthful demographics, MySpace is a good site for lawyers with a youthful, consumer-based target market. MySpace members are much more likely to communicate with each other using social networks, text messaging, blogs and YouTube ( than via any other means.

It is a potential location for lawyers in the entertainment industry as well as lawyers who practice family, personal injury and DUI law. Baltimore-based entertainment lawyer Paul Gardner (, for example, set up a page on MySpace – and has acquired work from it.

With a social network – as with any business development tool – you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply create a profile and never go back, you are not likely to generate new business. That would be like joining a face-to-face group and never going to a meeting. However, if you add connections and use them to meet business contacts and research business opportunities, social networking can help savvy lawyers and law firms further enhance their practice and their bottom line.

Second Life

Second Life ( takes online social networking to a new level by creating a complete parallel world in which residents can live and socialize, and do business, including legal business.

Launched in 2003 by a California-based Linden Lab (, Second Life has more than 9 million residents and promotes itself as “a 3-D online digital world – imagined, created and owned by its residents.”

Basic membership is free, although residents can upgrade to a premium package for $72 (U.S.) a year which allows them to rent private and commercial space. Second Life has its own currency and economy.

Creative businesses around the world, including law firms, are looking for ways to build a brand in Second Life, as well as ways to use Second Life as a tool for training, marketing or product development.

Vancouver's Davis LLP boasts that it was the first Canadian law firm to open a branch office in the virtual online world of Second Life, as an offshoot of its video game law and interactive entertainment group.

Intellectual property attorney Benjamin Duranske has created the Second Life Bar Association and is the group’s current president. President-elect is British attorney David Naylor, whose firm Field Fisher Waterhouse ( has an office in Second Life.

The group is developing a system of attorney verification so that clients know if their Second Life attorney is qualified to practice in the real world. Duranske advises all members to operate within the constraints of “real world” codes of professional conduct.

Since residents of Second Life are from all over the world, there is currently no actual legal system within the “metaverse”, although one is being created. As a result, transactions must take place and disputes must be resolved in real world courts.

Duranske’s Web site/blog ( provides a primer on the legal issues that impact virtual worlds. In addition, a class in Internet law is offered at a Second Life university, taught by the avatar of Charles Nesson. Nesson is founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

For the most part, lawyers with offices in Second Life seem to be those with cutting-edge technology and IP practices. Like other residents, Second Life lawyers create avatars (personal animated characters) to serve as their digital identities. They buy or rent real estate; they design, equip and staff digital offices. They participate in groups.

Second Life is quite sophisticated and (although it is not a game) it can be daunting for individuals with no computer gaming experience. Those lacking the talent or time can hire one of 200 consulting firms that have sprung up to help businesses build and maintain a presence in Second Life.

Omar Khuri, an immigration lawyer in Evanston, Illinois, used one of these consultants to open a law office in Second Life. In this office, Khuri’s avatar serves people from around the globe who might need a visa or help with other immigration issues.

Greenberg & Lieberman, an intellectual property boutique located in Washington, D.C., also operates a law office in Second Life. Amazingly, the firm claims to land real clients, file real trademark applications and make real money—nearly $20,000 in the past year—through its presence in the virtual world.

Los Angeles law firm Praxis ( operates real world offices in California and Colorado, specializing in intellectual property and corporate transactions. The firm has opened one office in Second Life and has plans to open more. “It doesn’t make sense to be in just one place,” said Michael Leventhal, a firm partner. “We’ll locate offices in areas like biotechnology, digital technology and space commerce.”

In Second Life as well as other social networks, online connections can lead to real world opportunities.

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer and ghostwriter who works closely with lawyers, law firms and other professional services providers – to help them achieve name recognition and new business through publication of articles and books for print and rich content for the Internet. She can be reached at (303) 399-5041 or