Friday, April 3, 2009

Lawyers Seek to Grow Online Networks

Recognizing the Business Development Potential of Social Networks

Everyone has their own philosophy when it comes to “effectively” using social networking. Social networking is so new, and is used by such diverse groups of professionals, that there is not really a “user manual” nor a clearly defined set of “best practices.” Many of these answers are still up for debate.

However, it does seem to be a trend that lawyers are seeking to grow their online networks.

One can think of the styles of online networking as a sort of continuum, where on one side “open networkers” willingly connect to anyone who asks (and to many who don’t), and use social networking websites as “relationship initiators.” While on the other side of the spectrum “closed networkers” only allow those who they know well, or those who they have an existing professional relationship with, into their online social networks, presumably in order to enhance those relationships.

Lawyers, being the cautious and exclusive breed they are, have generally been somewhere of the mind of “closed networkers” in the past, and have often been unwilling to connect without a pre-existing relationship.

However, such attitudes among lawyers seem to be changing.

Law and Legal Open Networkers – Not just for LIONS anymore

One barometer of such a change I see is the increase in the number of lawyers, and the number of large firm lawyers, who are interested to join the LinkedIn group Law and Legal Open Networkers. At one time this group was full of non-lawyers associated with the legal profession seeking to build new business relationships, however recently lawyers from nationwide firms such as Mintz Levin, Nutter, McClennen & Fish, and Duane Morris have applied for and gained admission to this group.

Although as a group, lawyers are still somewhat apprehensive about the potential havoc an untrusted contact may wreck in one’s online network (please contact me with examples if you know of any – I have yet to hear of one), lawyers do seem to be catching on to the business development potential that building new relationships via social networking offers.

Building Connections is not a Self-Executing Process

It is important to remember that although you may have decided to change your social networking philosophy, simply joining a group of open networkers, adding your email address to your profile, or even adding a message like “INVITE ME” to your profile will not dramatically increase the size of your online network. Many LinkedIn users are busy people, and they incorrectly assume that by taking one or more of the aforementioned actions that the entire online world will come after them seeking to connect as if they have the name recognition of Barack Obama.

It is important to remember that although some connections may come to you by joining such groups as Toplinked, Open Networker, or the Dallas Blue Business Network, most connections (particularly most targeted or high quality connections) will not just come to you as you are engaged in other work activities.

If online networkers are sincerely interested to build their connections in a substantial way, they should:

1. Identify their networking targets
2. Locate groups where their networking targets may be found
3. Initiate contact with their networking targets

Always be careful not to send messages that smell like SPAM, always be a “networking giver” by sharing resources, and seek to initiate a conversation or a relationship rather than delivering a sales pitch.

Click here if you are interested to join David Barrett’s online network on LinkedIn – the World’s Largest LinkedIn Lawyer Network.