Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is LinkedIn a Better Lawyer Search Than Google?

If you stop to think about the “history” of law firm business development for a minute, it could be basically broken down into two categories – adverts for those potential clients who don’t know any lawyers, and reputation or relationship-building for potential legal client referrals from other attorneys.

Online listings found through the search engine Google (either through paid listings or well planned website SEO) may help develop new leads in both of these categories, however lawyers seeking to refer a client to another lawyer with a particular area of expertise will likely not do merely a Google search. Most attorneys will refer to other attorneys in their firms, attorneys found through Martindale-Hubbell with a solid peer review rating, or well-recommended attorneys in their professional networks.

Now that the number of attorneys on LinkedIn has grown considerably, and LinkedIn has unveiled its new search platform it may be time to ask whether LinkedIn is a better business development tool for lawyers than Google.

Others have asked about the limits of the technical search specifications of Google but at issue here is whether the relationship-based nature of LinkedIn makes it a more effective legal client referral tool than a search of law firms purchasing the top listings on commercial search engines.

Most lawyers would likely agree that potential clients who are referred from another attorney are better leads than those who are merely calling a list of names (obtained from either the telephone book or from a computer search).

Further, the relationship-based nature of LinkedIn is the type of assistance potential clients likely desire when they approach an attorney they trust, even if that attorney practices in a specialty that is outside of the scope of the legal matter.

The relationship-based nature of LinkedIn may also be a significant asset for those with a considerable number of non-lawyer connections as well. If one is to search “Boston lawyer” on LinkedIn the search results are typically ordered by proximity of relationship – i.e. direct connections first, followed by second degree connections (connections of your connections), third degree connections, and those who belong to a shared LinkedIn group.

The more connections an attorney has, the more often that attorney would come up in such a search done by any of the connections seeking a lawyer, and adds support to the argument that more LinkedIn connections is a better situation than fewer LinkedIn connections.

As my current extended LinkedIn network approaches 14 million professionals, I hope that the concept that LinkedIn is better than Google catches on quickly not only for self-interested reasons, but because it makes sense.

I'm not the first person to hatch this idea, and the folks at ReadWriteWeb duly note the limits of this approach (best for early adopters, those with few connections have few search results). However as LinkedIn use grows among lawyers, those attorneys with responsibilities in business development would be remiss to ignore this likely trend.

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