Kennedy on Tech

Is LinkedIn's endorsement feature ethical for lawyers?


“Does Dennis have these skills or expertise?”

If you’ve visited my, or anyone else’s, LinkedIn profile page recently, you’ve been asked this question. For many lawyers, this seemingly simple inquiry has generated more questions than answers.

LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for lawyers. Most of you know your LinkedIn profile works as an extended form of a resumé or biography. A relatively new feature highlights skills. You can list a number of skills that you have—public speaking, writing, leadership and legal skills like litigation, licensing or land-use finance. This can help you round out the story your profile tells.

However, some lawyers and regulators have gotten hung up on what legal skills are. There has been debate about whether skills are the same as or at least imply the idea of specialty. Some will argue that lawyers shouldn’t list legal skills at all. I feel that if you spend most of your days drafting contracts, it seems logical to say you have the skill of contract drafting.

LinkedIn’s use of skills brings us to its endorsements. Those of you who follow discussions of ethical rules will not be surprised that LinkedIn’s choice of the word endorsement has triggered debate about the ethics of endorsing lawyers for their skills.

To endorse someone on LinkedIn means something like “agreeing that this person has that skill.” It’s like a little yes vote. It’s not a rating or a detailed analysis, just an acknowledgement that you think the person has the skill.

Now, in the LinkedIn world, it’s far better to have a recommendation than an endorsement. A recommendation typically describes a great experience working with a person. The trouble is, most people never get around to writing and posting recommendations. Endorsements are easy to do.

TOP 2 TROUBLES

There are two common concerns people have had with endorsements.

First, LinkedIn suggests skills to endorse that you might not have. LinkedIn might suggest a transactional lawyer add litigation as a skill to endorse. But if your connections don’t know exactly what you do, they could endorse you for litigation because they think you’re good at everything, and you can get endorsements that don’t make sense. Also, since people can see your endorsed skills, they might get confused about what you do. The good news is that there are ways to manage your en-dorsements and which ones appear. And if you mistakenly make an endorsement, you can withdraw it.

Second, many people feel endorsements don’t really have any meaning. My theory, and I admit that it is only a theory, is that there can be a point where the quantity of endorsements can tell you something useful.

Imagine you are looking for someone to speak at an event. If you check the LinkedIn profiles of prospective speakers (and you should), and one has a handful of endorsements for public speaking and another has more than 100, might that give you a sense of which one to call first? Similarly, the number of endorsements can give a better sense of the type of practice a lawyer has. The combination of skills and endorsements might be useful as you present yourself, or even more useful as you try to find and assess others on LinkedIn. If you are looking for a new way to enhance the value of your LinkedIn account, these are two great places to start.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “To Endorse (or Not): LinkedIn feature draws some questions.”

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