Is LinkedIn Losing Its Luster for Lawyers?

In 2011, LinkedIn sent me an email thanking me for being its 137,277th member. Considering that LinkedIn now has more than 380 million members worldwide, that tells you that I was an early adopter.

I was an early evangelist, as well. Shortly after I joined LinkedIn in 2004, I wrote a post here titled, LinkedIn Helps Expand Your Circle of Contacts.  In subsequent blog posts, articles and speeches over the years, I regularly urged lawyers to get on LinkedIn and to spend time figuring out how to use it. In fact, my general position over the years has been not just that lawyers should be on LinkedIn, but that they need to be on LinkedIn.

I haven’t been exclusively a cheerleader. For example, in 2013, I wrote a post here raising concern that LinkedIn endorsements could violate legal ethics rules. But that wasn’t really a complaint about LinkedIn so much as it was about lawyers who aren’t smart about how they use LinkedIn.

Increasingly, however, I find myself to be of two minds about LinkedIn. On one hand, I continue to see its usefulness to lawyers as a directory and means of making connections. At the same time however, I am bothered by the fact that, as LinkedIn’s membership has soared, so has the level of useless noise, unwanted spam and pointless connection attempts.

Spammy Connection Requests

Perhaps what most troubles me about LinkedIn these days is that I now receive far more connection invitations from people trying to sell me something than from people who legitimately want to connect for professional purposes.

Web developers. Financial consultants. Insurance brokers. Marketing consultants. Career counselors. Product vendors. Tailors. Digital content providers. Office furniture salespeople. Lead-generation consultants. SEO experts. Real estate brokers. IT consultants. Website developers. Recruiters. Videographers.

These are just some of the recent connection requests I have received. Requests of this type far outnumber legitimate connection requests. And I haven’t even mentioned all the requests I get from people who I can’t figure out what they do or why in the world I’d want to connect with them.

Sometimes I get fooled into accepting a request that seems to arrive without a hidden agenda, only to then immediately receive a LinkedIn message from the person thanking me for connecting and wondering if they could interest me in this or that product or service.

In 2011, I wrote a post chastising lawyers who ignored connection requests from strangers on LinkedIn.

Why … would you want to ignore invitations from strangers? The whole point is to broaden your network to add people you do not currently know — not to limit it.

Think of it this way: If you were at a live networking event, would you accept or reject opportunities to mingle based on whether you previously knew the person? Of course not. The purpose of networking is to create new connections that might prove useful to you as a professional.

Nowadays, I am changing my tune. I scrutinize every invitation and reject far more than I accept. It’s not that I have a fear of strangers. It’s that I already have more than enough spam and noise in my digital life without needing more via LinkedIn.

Good Reasons to Stick With It

There are plenty of good reasons for lawyers to be on LinkedIn and — so far at least — the pluses outweigh the minuses. If nothing else, LinkedIn is currently the default go-to directory for professionals and business peoples of every ilk. It is also a handy way of messaging people when you can’t find the information to contact them directly. And its relatively new publishing feature, LinkedIn Pulse, prompted my friend Amy Knapp — the woman who wrote the book on LinkedIn and blogs for lawyers — to predict that LinkedIn could kill off law blogs.

Articles abound about LinkedIn’s benefits for lawyers. Marketer Kern Lewis published a post on, Want Hard Proof that LinkedIn Works? Ask a Lawyer. He told of a lawyer who, after spending just a few hours over the course of a few weeks on LinkedIn, had generated referrals worth $12,000.

I’ve heard a couple of these LinkedIn miracle stories myself, straight from the horses’ mouths. My favorite was of a lawyer who joined LinkedIn and immediate did what so many of us do — began connecting with law school classmates. On his first day on LinkedIn (as I recall the story), he discovered that one of his law school buddies was now the general counsel of a company his firm was courting. Long story short, he reconnected with his old friend and his firm got the business.

Diminishing Returns?

However, given that I have been on LinkedIn for 11 years now and that I have often spoken about it at various conferences and events over the years, it is surprising how few success stories I’ve heard. Yes, there’s a whole lot of connecting going on, but how often are those connections actually leading anywhere?

Maybe there’s a sort of law of diminishing returns at play here. As of this moment, I have 2,254 connections on LinkedIn. I’m sure there are plenty of other people I could or should connect with. When I come across one, I sent an invitation. But at some point the worthwhile connections must start to run low. And all these connections begin to feel fruitless, as if we are connecting purely for the sake of connecting.

As for the connection requests people send me, I’ve begun to view them with trepidation. If it is someone I know, I readily accept the invitation. If it is another lawyer, even one I’ve never met, I readily accept the invitation. But I currently have a LinkedIn inbox overflowing with invitations from people such as an events marketer from India, a VP of sales for an unnamed company in California, a mobile application developer, a relationship manufacturer at a furniture factory in China, a sales expert from Virginia, a marketing director for a limo company in Florida, and a simplicity consultant from Washington, D.C.

A simplicity consultant?

There’s a nice guy lurking inside me who doesn’t want to just reject all these people out of hand. Maybe there was a good reason they reached out to me. Maybe they weren’t just hoping to sell me something or to capitalize on our connection. I feel I should at least look at their profiles and see if I can discern some rational reason for the connection request. It seems increasingly rare that I find one.

So I am souring on LinkedIn. And I am wondering where this will lead. Lawyers have little time to waste and little patience for nonsense. If the noise and the spam continue to increase, will they come to overwhelm the value of LinkedIn? Will lawyers continue to tolerate it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you still find LinkedIn worthwhile? Are you troubled by the spam. Do you have success stories (or horror stories)?

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  • LinkedIn had luster?

    I’ve always hated LinkedIn. At it’s best, LinkedIn is a wretched hive of self-promotion and spam. The only time I’ve found it worthwhile is in the startup world, where people routinely check LinkedIn before getting in touch. But that’s not a social use. That’s just using LinkedIn as a database of resumes. Which is what it is, and that’s probably all it will ever be: resumes barely visible beneath a swarm of self-promotion and spam.

    As for connections, my standard is whether I have actually had a meaningful communication with that person. If the connection request is the first I’ve heard from them and there’s no conversation within the connection request, I ignore/reject it. If it’s someone I know otherwise (like we’ve had drinks at a conference or we regularly @reply one another on Twitter), I accept.

    • Bob Ambrogi

      You raise a good point, Sam, about connection requests. Don’t just send off the request using the message supplied by LinkedIn! Say something to engage with the person or if nothing else to be more polite.

  • While I’m not practicing law anymore, I do find LinkedIn useful for connections and even people sending me inmail to ask questions when they think they can’t reach me any other way. It allows you to broadcast and share with a different audience. The connections are at least more professional in nature and you can get somewhat of a handle on the individual based upon their profile to determine whether or not you want to connect. If someone is a real estate broker from Pasadena or selling tractors I’m not particularly interested! The publishing platform is worthwhile as it’s another venue. I think it turns on your needs and how you use it. Said like a lawyer, right?

  • Ted Banks

    Yes, there is a lot of noise on LinkedIn, but it is easy to ignore. I find the system incredibly valuable for connecting with old colleagues or finding a way to connect with people I don;t know (or don’t know well) when I need to reach them for a reason I consider virtuous (i.e., I’m not saying “I’m the world’s best lawyer, hire me.”) I am not on Facebook at all, since for my business-related practice, I haven’t figured out how Facebook would be useful. Of course, the very size that makes it so valuable also hurts its utility when you are trying to .find someone who does not have a particularly distinctive name. But I still find it to be a very useful tool without being an unreasonable time suck each day,

  • Spot on.

    While I partly agree with Sam’s response (and chuckle a bit because I can hear him saying it), I continue to believe that lawyers ABSOLUTELY need to have at least a biographical profile on LinkedIn. Why wouldn’t you? Far too many people review LinkedIn profiles when considering referral recommendations. Missing or incomplete profiles can imply that the lawyer is hiding a weak resume. Meek profiles are a waste of time (if you’re a great lawyer, you should have the confidence to try to offer evidence of it).

    From my perspective, LinkedIn is sadly taking too many cues from Facebook. Yes – pointless connection attempts and spam. But endorsements are the current thorn in my side. They’re all but meaningless as I’ve had old friends who’ve never had a professional relationship with me endorse me for work I’ve never done. Every time I turn around, LinkedIn is pushing me to offer more meaningless endorsements to every connection I have.

    But, like Facebook with all its problems, it’s what we’ve got. It’s Facebook’s professional counterpart and requires at least the tiniest bit of presence. Until something better comes along, I consider it mandatory.

    • Bob Ambrogi

      You’re right that lawyers have to have a profile on LnikedIn and, yes, that’s because it’s what we’ve got. But if LinkedIn keeps going downhill, it won’t be all we’ve got for long. Something else will come along to fill the vacuum.

  • HughLogue

    LinkedIn has so much potential, but is not capitalizing on it. As every marketing advice book and blog out there tells professionals to publish articles on LinkedIn, it feels as though there will soon be more authors than readers on LinkedIn. It’s like a concert where the whole audience is on stage singing different songs at once. That said, it can be easily fixed if more filters are added.

  • I find LinkedIn despite its warts to be very useful.

    I am seeing the value of publishing there to be on the decline. There is so much noise with people trying to kick out a piece every couple days that’s drowned out any value.

    On requests to connect, I wade through them all and find gems including from clients and prospective clients who I end of talking to by phone as a result. Yes, clients who I may not have picked up the phone and called. The requests come in without a personal note and I pen back a personalized note. Took me a couple hours to do this on Saturday when I had not responded in a while to all the requests.

    Sharing my posts not in the LinkedIn publisher, but just in the status update has proved worthwhile as it leads to engagement which leads to conversation.

    So beyond the obvious directory angle, I still see value.

  • Brian Tannebaum

    As I said in my book: “LinkedIn is a complete waste of time. The proof of this is the various hysterical posts and books written in an attempt to convince you that LinkedIn is not a complete waste of time. It is. Yes, you should have a profile there. You should have a profile on every social media site. Yes, you should connect with people on LinkedIn, but that’s it. Move on.”

    Your new assessment is proof that everything the tech hacks and marketers try to convince us lawyers is “the future of law,” is nothing but a self fulfilling prophecy.

  • amy knapp

    Bob – thanks for the post and the mention. I am somewhat surprised to hear you express disillusionment because LinkedIn didn’t turn out to be the Great White (business development) Hope. LinkedIn is where the world gets information on business people. Connecting on LinkedIn is the modern-day equivalent of exchanging business cards. Except people stick around on LinkedIn and business cards clutter up
    your desk. Or demand that you retype them into a CRM.

    Being on LinkedIn just signals that you are a normal business person with a job. Not
    being on it says a lot more: You’re old fashioned? Planning to retire soon? Tech-illiterate?

    Regarding your quote: “Perhaps what most troubles me about LinkedIn these days is that I now receive far more connection invitations from people trying to sell me something than from people who legitimately want to connect for professional purposes.”

    With respect Bob, selling stuff to each other could be described as one of the definitions of ‘professional purposes’. That’s what I’m doing on there.

    As for that nice guy lurking inside of you – do you feel obligated to save every business card that every random sales person hands you? If not, then don’t feel bad about rejecting spammy LinkedIn invitations.

    And be glad that it happens in your inbox these days. I’ve heard that sales people
    used to pop up on your doorstep unannounced and ring the doorbell!

    I do know plenty of LinkedIn success stories (OK, maybe 8 or 9). Those stories come
    one of two ways: either a senior attorney is paying attention to expanding their network for the first time and old contacts resurface and hire them (same as your example) OR the attorney just grooves with LinkedIn and uses it as one of their primary networking
    tools. LinkedIn does not work any better or worse than other marketing avenues.
    You have to find a marketing method that feels right, and if LinkedIn feels right, you totally work it, bring those relationships into real life and turn them in to business. I’ve seen attorneys do that with LinkedIn, but I’ve also seen them do that with an industry association or a blog.

  • LetUsGetAlong

    I agree with your sentiments. I thought LinkedIn Groups might be a great way to foster discussion and add a real social dynamic to what LinkedIn is doing (with moderation) but the noise level with groups is very high as well. Other online communities (not legal) have active and vibrant discussions and user engagement but I have not had this experience on LinkedIn. I turned most emails off from LinkedIn groups long ago. And they are building out upwards, downwards and outwards as they seek new revenue streams so I’m not sure that the signal to noise ratio is going to get better. The LinkedIn main feed I see on login is useless (especially with a lot of connections) and is going the way of Facebook’s feed. I think part of the overall analysis is asking what someone wants to get out of a service – it differs widely. If it is just connecting with people so you can look them up and get current contact info – or checking out someone’s profile who you are working with – then LinkedIn does that. But as a source of current info or a place for discussions it has not been useful to me. Maybe Pulse and these new messaging tools will help but at this point it’s unclear. I still find that the best place to find information is through my Feedly account (which I migrated to when Google’s RSS Reader was shutdown). I have that set with sub-folders and scan the titles of articles each day. They have a ton of integrations as well to save items and now even to share them with select groups (this may be a Pro feature) and I think I read that they are working on better ways to highlight popular content. There is more and more information – the companies that find the way to get you what you want in the most easily digestible and accessible format are the ones that I try to follow and pay for to support. In some ways the issues are the same as they were 5 or 10 years ago – but the volume and the network size has increased.

  • Jennifer Smiga

    Have you used LinkedIn as a way to connect with media contacts who could use your knowledge as a source for their content? Many do connect with their sources on the platform. Many also hate connecting with sources on LinkedIn. Often, it can be a place to start a relationship.

  • Nick Holmes

    Bob, Remember back in the day when you had say 150 connections who you actually knew – and I aint picking that number at random – plus a small number of connections with fellow early adopters. LinkedIn was really useful back then as you could reach let’s say 20K quality 2nd degree connections. Now you have 2,254 connections, millions of useless 2nd degree connections and gazillions of spammers on their coat tails. Of course LinkedIn sucks.

  • Daniel Batchelor

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say a lot of connections going on but little beyond that. The real problem here is LinkedIn is a medium for communication, and most Lawyers in my experience just don’t understand how to use it. Or are put off by the inevitable spam, as with all communication – should we not outbound call as we get cold called? Or send emails as our inboxes get spammed daily?

    If you look at the companies LinkedIn is acquiring they are building a powerful B2B prospecting tool. Proven in almost every sector to work – if you know how to use it properly – same with any form of prospecting.

    Those who walk into networking events hand out business cards and hard sell don’t close, same principle with LinkedIn cold connections. The ability to research your prospects, find common ground, introductions and to be completely transparent is a real gamechanger – finding partners/prospects and nurturing relationships and trust – using LinkedIn as part of this process.

    It wont replace the way business is done, but using it correctly is a no brainer in helping build a solid sales pipeline.

  • Thaddeus

    Just received a notice that the LinkedIn Groups feature will be changing – and some of the changes may not be for the better:

  • Rick Fernandez

    If you want more quality connections, initiate the invitations. If you don’t like the invitations you’re getting, ignore them. If you want more quality relationships, develop them (yes, it’s important to connect … once done, pick up the phone and talk … go to lunch or coffee … convert your virtual connection to real world). LinkedIn is not magic. The same old world, common sense networking rules apply. Follow them … By my observation, only one in ten attorneys (with LinkedIn profiles) have done a good job of developing them. If your profile is poorly done, don’t expect great results. Rick Fernandez (attorney, career coach, LinkedIn trainer, recruiter and member of the Bar in Florida and California … LinkedIn member since 2007)

  • KnowToGrow – Legal

    LinkedIn has always recomended to accept only invitations from people one knows very well. There is no point of wildly connecting to everybody who asks for it. Of course you will get spammed otherwise. But LinkedIn is, and i think will always be, a great way to identify interesting persons and ways to contact them (through mutual acquantancies for instance). As for Pulse, it is just another distribution channel for your blog articles, one more chance to have them read by people who don’t follow your blog.