Social media is a crucial part of commercial and personal communication.
In legal and other professional services, one platform has almost monopolised the field: LinkedIn.
Despite a lingering perception that lawyers are tech-phobic, every major Australian law firm, thousands of businesses they serve and 25,000 Australian lawyers have joined LinkedIn since it launched in 2003.
MLS has over 6,000 graduates listed on LinkedIn.
So why has this platform been embraced by lawyers?
"In practical terms LinkedIn was first to meet the specific needs of professionals," says Dr George Beaton, Partner at Beaton Capital.
"It also has the perception as being 'for business' in contrast to perceptions that Facebook is 'for my kids or private life'."
What is LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is a mixture of an online CV and business news wire. Individuals connect their profiles with other people in their known network and are able to 'follow' companies, individuals or institutions to receive regular updates.
Where platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter emphasise a user's personality, LinkedIn highlights a person's professional life.
News content can be tailored to a user's interests but the majority of popular content tends to be business news, career advice and updates from colleagues.
Many companies now accept LinkedIn profiles as an alternative to traditional CVs in their graduate and junior recruitment process. It is also now a primary tool for recruiters to seek out and filter talent at higher levels.
What's the value of social media for experienced professionals?
Dr Beaton says that for those working in professional services, engagement with clients and other businesses through social media will become "mission-critical" over the next decade. Choosing whether or not to engage is not an option.
However Dr Beaton is careful to mark the distinction between mere presence and real engagement.
"Many people think of and use social media as though it is electronic paper. Writing styles, frequency, interactivity, use of audio and visual materials make social media very different – most professionals don't get this yet."
Matthew Bell, senior lecturer at MLS and part-time professional support lawyer at Clayton Utz, was an early adopter and formed a specialised group on LinkedIn for students, alumni and friends of MLS's construction law program in 2011. He says he has seen it start to change the practice of academics and professionals.
"I saw LinkedIn as the 21st century equivalent of what lecturers used to do putting notices up on the notice board.
"What I like about the Construction Law @ Melbourne Group is the way it encourages people to float ideas or tell people about their research or events they are running: geography is no barrier."
What's the value for students and recent law graduates?
As a means of first building and maintaining your professional network, connecting via LinkedIn now acts as an adjunct or substitute to trading business cards.
"Rather than having to invest time and systems into following and potentially losing track of colleagues and clients (and, in the academic context, research collaborators, students and alumni), the real value is that people update their profiles themselves," says Mr Bell.
Now, many junior and mid-career lawyers field requests from recruiters directly through the platform.
For law students it's a reliable and controlled way to present to employers as well as a tool for learning more about industries, individuals or firms of interest.
Taking Control of your online reputation
Information about you or your business is sitting somewhere online.
It might be a comment you once made at a conference, a referral from a client or even pictures of a sports day or trivia night you attended. When clients, prospective employers or acquaintances search you online, your LinkedIn profile will likely become the first thing they see.
5 tips for getting the most out of LinkedIn
- Keep your profile lean: Keep the profile as a crisp, tidy snapshot of your major professional achievements and who you are today.
- Share your professional lessons: LinkedIn gives users the ability to publish stories. It is a new way of informing clients of general updates or impressing new ones.
- Be sure that Connection requests are genuine: Your network is valuable! Accept requests only from people you are certain exist in the real world.
- Establish or join professional interest groups: Many industry groups have specific groups dedicated to sharing cutting edge insights and job opportunities.
- Ensure your profile picture is professional: Your photo helps anchor the tone of your page. Make sure it reflects your professional persona.
Banner image credit: Damian Zaleski (finda.photo)