This article is entitled, “How Lawyers can use LinkedIn for ethical marketing purposes.” One of its key recommendations is for attorneys to invite new or prospective clients to connect with them on LinkedIn. The article doesn’t mention any of the ethical risks involved in such an effort. So here are thing I think you should consider if/when sending out such invitations:
1. Do you practice law in a sensitive area like bankruptcy, divorce, taxes? If so, your clients might not want it known that they are “connected” with you even if its not clear they are your clients.
2. Safely connecting with clients. If you want to reach out and connect with your clients but you want them to be confident that no one will know they know you, then you can tell them that you lock-down your contacts’ identities so no one will see who you know. This begs the question however, exactly what is the benefit for either your client or you to connect in this way on LinkedIn. The service is primarily a referral network platform. If contacts aren’t shared, this aspect of the service loses a significant portion of its value.
3. What if you have a policy where you don’t connect with client on LinkedIn and a client send you an invitation? Then you need to have a polite and positive response which outlines how its important to you to safeguard your clients privacy and you simply don’t believe connecting on LinkedIn is worth the risk.
Bottom line: I don’t believe in hard and fast rules about inviting clients to connect through LinkedIn. There are plenty of benefits and if both you and your client are comfortable with publicizing the connection, then go for it. However, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to client relationships and confidentiality. Its important that attorneys understand the risks and act responsibly in tackling them.