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Social Media Safety Net: Build It and They Will Come

The lesson: LinkedIn and other social media networks can provide a valuable “safety net,” a way for you to reach out to people to gain interest in and support for a new venture. But you have to work on building your network ahead of time.

As an ethics lawyer, I often present on legal ethics and social media. One question I frequently receive, and a point I try to make, is that being active on social media can be quite beneficial, particularly if you develop a plan and stick to it. I offer my own story as proof that social media may provide a very useful safety net for you and your career.

On February 16, 2015, I left the relative comfort and security of a 200+ lawyer firm to open my 1+ lawyer practice, Downey Law Group LLC, which focuses on legal ethics and the law of lawyering. (Ethics opinions require that a “law group” consist of more than one lawyer, so I had a former colleague joining me as a part-time lawyer).

When I started my own firm, I had several advantages over other potential solos. I had taught legal ethics and law firm practice for more than a decade, and was the immediate past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. During the years leading up to and serving as chair, I had spent considerable time learning about how law practices succeed and getting to know many nationally recognized experts who provide guidance and assistance to law practices.

Nevertheless, as perhaps any new business owner would be, I was nervous about starting my own firm. If I started a firm, I wondered, would anyone contact me or use my services? These concerns drove me to work hard in preparing a website and extensive mailing list for a firm announcement, but neither was ready on my launch date. I wondered how anyone would know my new firm existed.

Late in the evening on February 16, I spent perhaps 30 minutes updating my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new firm and some other changes.

And then the social media safety net took over. What happened? This chart of activity on my LinkedIn profile as of February 21 best tells the story:

downey-law-group-linkedin-announcement

Yes, this shows that I went from averaging one profile view per day for 90 days, to receiving 300 profile views in the five days after my LinkedIn profile heralded my new firm.

These 300 views were accompanied by new work from existing clients, new clients from new and existing referral sources, a half-dozen lunch invitations, offers of free help and assistance, and more than 100 congratulatory messages. I even received a call from a local legal newspaper, which ran an article discussing the launch of my new firm.

What did this advertising and publicity cost?

$0.

Nothing. Just some time updating my profile, which admittedly was a little tricky, because I had to quit and re-activate several part-time (teaching) positions to get my employment listed in the order I wanted.

Lots of people start new law firms and don’t get this type of “pop” on LinkedIn. What was my secret?

For several years, I had been patiently connecting to people I met, building my network to approximately 2,300 connections. Most of these connections are lawyers, my primary targets both as clients and as referral sources.

Lawyers’ heavy participation on LinkedIn spurred my commitment to LinkedIn. If I were seeking to locate other groups of people, I might have chosen another social media site. Had I wanted to connect to twelve-year-olds, for example, my twelve-year-old son’s Internet habits suggest Instagram would have been the proper site. (But let’s leave his Internet habits for a later post).

The key to my “pop,” then, was that I had a “social media plan”—nothing written out, but an idea of what I wanted to accomplish and some thought for how to make it happen. I knew lots of lawyers were on LinkedIn, and I worked to connect with people in the legal industry. This took some time. My launch was not the first thing I did on LinkedIn, but only the latest and certainly (for me, at least) the most significant activity on LinkedIn.

Of course, now some friends have challenged me to see what I can do next to keep interest in my LinkedIn profile quite high. I know that I will need something they might find significant, appealing, and valuable. Perhaps I should become a blogger for the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, and share how LinkedIn helped me launch my new law firm…

About Michael Downey

Michael Downey
Michael Downey is a legal ethics lawyer and founder of Downey Law Group LLC, a law firm dedicated to legal ethics, law firm risk management, and the law of lawyering. Michael has taught legal ethics at Washington University School of Law and St. Louis University School of Law, chaired the ABA Law Practice Division from 2013-14, and served on the Technology Working Group of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20. Reach Michael at 314-961-6644 or MDowney@DowneyLawGroup.com.

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