If your experience on LinkedIn has been anything like mine, you often receive requests to connect with people whom you have never met. Rather than accepting a stranger’s request, focus on building connections that matter.

On LinkedIn, the basic type of connection is a contact you know personally and whom you trust on a professional level. Once you’ve “connected” with them on LinkedIn, you are considered a first-degree connection.

Do your homework before you connect. Connections are a reflection on you, your values and your circle of influence, so treat them as a valuable commodity.

Your connections say something about you. Your LinkedIn account is intended to showcase who you are as a professional. When someone reviews your LinkedIn profile, scanning through your connections provides a snapshot of who you are and how seriously you do (or do not) take yourself professionally.

Your connection to a person may imply shared views or work ethic. That overly political acquaintance you have on Facebook may not be an appropriate connection on LinkedIn. Outspoken folks with polarizing views or less-than-stellar reputations may not be an asset in your professional network or to your law firm’s public reputation.

Your connection is valuable. Just as your connections say something about you on your profile page, your name on someone else’s page is equally valuable. By connecting, although you are by no means endorsing this person’s work, you are lending credibility, even if only subliminally, to their professional standing. That’s great if it is mutually beneficial, but if you don’t know the person or their reputation, you might reconsider.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t accept LinkedIn invitations from people you don’t know, but you should always take the time to evaluate with whom you are connecting. Some out-of-the-blue requests may be relevant and make sense professionally, while for others, the better response might be to say, “Thanks, but I would like to get to know you better first,” or ignore the request altogether.

Consider ethical boundaries and implications. Be sure you understand the ethical issues and rules relating to social media before you make a connection, especially with a judge or arbitrator. Familiarize yourself with the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility opinion on judges’ use of electronic social networking media. You should also consult your state bar for its take on ethics related to LinkedIn. 

A few additional notes about ethics for lawyers using LinkedIn:

  • Lawyers must understand social media and how it might affect their clients.
  • Distributing generally available legal or educational information is fine. Eliciting specific information about a person’s legal problem and providing advice to that person runs the risk of forming an attorney-client relationship.
  • Discussions about pending legal matters should be left off social media. Treat postings with the same degree of “reasonable care” that you give email.
  • If you wish to post a disclaimer to your LinkedIn profile, we recommend the following language:

This profile is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The handling and outcome of any legal matter depends on varying factors unique to each matter, and results cannot be predicted or guaranteed. Do not act upon information without seeking legal counsel. Unless specifically stated, an indication of a special area of practice, skill or endorsement does not imply certification by a state bar or other certifying organization.

Have additional questions about connecting on LinkedIn? Feel free to contact me, Lisa Altman, at laltman@jaffepr.com or 301.943.9948.