Streamlining the Mediation Preparation Through Family Law Attorneys

When dealing with disputes that involve family law, many people have the mistaken idea that you can engage a family law attorney if you’ll undergo mediation, and vice versa. It’s simply not true. The fact is, when resolving conflicts and protecting your interests in a family law dispute, mediation is just one tool out of many. Just as engaging an attorney to advise you doesn’t preclude you from entering into mediation in order to avoid court, entering into mediation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire an attorney to advise you.

In a wide variety of important ways, a family law attorney can assist you with preparing for mediation.

Discovery

With any legal proceeding or dispute, discovery is one of the most important aspects. The discovery process involves the collection and collation of information pertinent to the dispute, and the data collected can have a serious impact on the final result. A clear and up-to-date knowledge of every aspect of the issues you will be deciding is vital whenever one party enters into mediation with another party. A family law attorney will not only have the resources to gather this information, including subpoena powers if they are necessary, but also the experience to collate and present it to you, to the opposing part and to the mediator in a clear and easily understood manner.

Worksheet Completion

A divorce is a complex situation with a lot of moving parts’ that will have a significant impact on the lives of all involved. A family law attorney will have the necessary information on hand to complete a child support obligation worksheet (if necessary) or a marital estate worksheet. There are serious financial problems or even court-imposed penalties when errors on these worksheets are made. And unless you possess the experience and familiarity with them that an attorney brings, these worksheets can be difficult to complete.

Emotional Prep

Finally, a family law attorney has been through the process many times and can give the client a clear concept of the best-case and worst-case scenarios. The whole experience becomes less frightening and more effective when clients have a reasonable and objective idea of what the outcome of mediation could be. When this happens, clients come to terms with those possibilities more easily and enter into the mediation process with a calm, productive attitude.

How to Effectively Use Powers of Attorney in Your Elder Law Plan

Powers of Attorney are key components of any elder law plan. These legal documents provide for someone to make your important decisions when you can no longer make decisions due to incapacity. In many ways, powers of attorney (POAs) can be more important than a will. This article will examine several common types of POAs. We will also look at how to use POAs as part of a well designed elder law plan.

Kinds of Powers of Attorney

Financial (Durable) POA – This legal document provides for others to make decisions about your assets when you can’t. For example, Indiana law provides for a durable POA to deal with real property, tangible personal property, retirement plans, banking transactions, business operations, insurance matters, gifting, litigation, family maintenance, benefits from military service, and estate (probate) issues. Think of this document covering any decision other than healthcare decisions.
Health Care POA – This document is sometimes known, as in Indiana, as Health Care Representative Appointment or health care power of attorney. This permits someone to make your healthcare decisions for you. Most states, like Indiana, require the person making your decisions to try and find out what you want done or not done medically. This is true even if you are incompetent. The idea is that you should never completely lose control of your medical decisions. There will be a duty to try to find out your wishes before anything is decided. The value of this document is that your need medical decisions are not held up while try to figure out who needs to make your decisions. With out this document, you would likely need to have someone appointed guardian over you. This can be time consuming and expensive litigation.

Using Powers of Attorney In Your Elder Law Plan

One of the key uses of POAs is to avoid guardianship or conservatorship proceedings. These legal proceedings can be both costly and time consuming. A properly designed and executed elder law plan plans for when you can’t maker medical and financial decisions while you’re alive. Well drafted powers of attorney provide you with the immediate ability to deal with all of your critical decisions regardless of your capacity to make decisions. Another advantage of the POAs over guardianships, at least in Indiana, is that they can be designed to be very flexible to meet your specific needs. They can be drafted to only be legally valid when you need them and not valid when you don’t.

Durable and healthcare powers of attorney are important and complex legal documents. Don’t be tempted to save money by using generic forms from hospitals, nursing homes, or the internet. Competent legal counsel is needed to make sure the powers of attorney are properly designed and executed as part or your overall elder law plan.

Please don’t wait until it is too late. One of your most important choices is who will make your important decisions when you no longer can. Don’t let the court or others make this critical choice for you. Remember that not every attorney handles estate planning and elder law matters. Ask your attorney if he is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) If you are missing any of these important elements, then consider contacting your elder law attorney to have your estate plan reviewed.

Indiana Supreme Court Releases New Advertising Rules for Personal Injury Attorneys

The Indiana Supreme Court is taking a bold step in stopping abuses associated with Direct Attorney Solicitation of Personal Injury Cases. Prior to approximately 1990, attorneys were not allowed to advertise. This rule was abolished as being a violation of an attorneys first amendment right to freedom of speech. Since that time certain attorneys have taken to sending the families of accident victims direct mail solicitations asking to represent the injured Hoosier in a claim against the party that caused the injuries. The majority of personal injury attorneys found this type of direct contact at best distasteful and at worse a serious harm to the integrity of the profession. The practice smacks of “ambulance chasing” and an attempt to create claims where none would have previously existed. Individuals who were receiving these advertisements were becoming jurors, and their anger at this practice was causing a bias against those who were genuinely injured by the negligence of another.

In response, the Indiana Supreme Court has amended the rules on Attorney conduct regarding direct solicitations. Rule 7.03, of the Rules of Professional Conduct, have been amended to restrict the practice of direct solicitation for 30 days from the date of the injury. The rule, which can be read on the Indiana Supreme Court website, “A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client by in person, or by written, recorded, audio, video, or electronic communication, including the internet if: (3) the solicitation concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the solicitation is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than thirty days prior to the initiation of the solicitation.” This rule is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2011.

The Supreme Court has reasoned that direct contact at a time of significant vulnerability of the injured victim is inconsistent with the professionalism the Court attempts to maintain by and through its rules. Young & Young wholly supports the Indiana Supreme Courts efforts to curb direct Attorney advertising.

Basic Indiana Divorce Information

In Indiana, divorce is governed by Indiana Code 31-15, et seq. The grounds for divorce are (1) Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, (2) The conviction of either of the parties, subsequent to the marriage, of a felony, (3) Impotence, existing at the time of the marriage, (4) Incurable insanity of either party for a period of at least two (2) years. Because Indiana is a no fault divorce state, most people just state there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

At the time of the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage you must be either a resident of Indiana or stationed at a United States military installation within Indiana for six (6) months immediately preceding the filing of the petition. With some exceptions, at least one of the parties must have been a resident of the county or stationed at a United States military installation within the county where the petition is filed for three (3) months immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

Once a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, the non-moving party may also file a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage. In most situations the author does not believe a counter-petition is necessary; however, it is common for many attorneys to file a counter-petition.

Once the petition is filed, the parties must wait 60 days before the divorce may be finalized. While the legislature allows a divorce to be finalized 60 days after the petition is filed, it is uncommon for a divorce to be finalized within that time frame. This is due to the nature of the discovery process, the requirement (in some counties) for mediation, the court’s calendar, etc. Therefore, you should not fault your attorney if your divorce is not finalized 60 days after the petition for dissolution is filed.

After a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, it is common for one (or both) of the parties to request a hearing on provisional orders. This is a hearing in which the court makes a temporary order about who will live in the marital home, who will have primary custody of the children, who will pay child support, who will pay certain debts (mortgage, credit cards, medical bills, etc), who will have temporary custody of certain items of personal property (cars, vacation homes, jewelry, bank accounts, etc). While this list is not exhaustive, you get the idea. This provisional order will govern until it is amended or the divorce is finalized.

After the provisional hearing the attorneys will conduct a process known as discovery. This process can be left open or the court can limit its time period. During the discovery process, the parties are allowed to investigate the assets of the parties, conduct depositions, submit subpoenas to third parties for information, each party’s parenting skills/abilities, and establish a marital balance sheet. During the discovery process it is common for the parties to participate in mediation.

At mediation, a neutral third party (typically another attorney), consults with both parties about how they believe marital assets should be divided, who should have primary custody of the children, determine child support, set a parenting schedule, and resolve any other issues. If mediation is successful at resolving any or all issues the parties will sign a marital settlement agreement (sometimes call a property settlement agreement). Any issues not resolved will be determined by a judge at a final hearing.

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Are You Missing Any of These Important Elements in Your Indiana Elder Law Plan

No one likes to consider his or her own death or disability let alone plan for it. The simple fact is that there will be a point when you can’t make decisions for yourself. Sometimes it is due to a disability during your life. It also happens when you die. It is important that you plan for having your important decisions made when you no longer can.

A properly designed and prepared estate plan provides you with someone you trust to make your important decisions when you can’t. Every estate plan is unique to the person setting up the plan. A good estate planning or elder law attorney can really benefit you by counseling you on what you need and by helping set up your estate plan.

All Indiana estate plans should include, at minimum, these seven important elements:

Important Element #1: A will. Everyone has a will. It’s true. Even if you have never written a will, Indiana had provided one for you. You will find this will, known as the law of intestacy, under Title 29 Article 1 of the Indiana Code. You should read it. You will probably find it is not what you want. Everybody needs a properly drafted will to make sure their decisions are carried out after their death. It doesn’t matter how few assets you have or if you have a trust, you still need a will.

Important Element #2: A durable power of attorney for financial decisions. If you are not able to make your own decisions, then this legal document gives someone else the authority to make financial decisions for you. You get to decide what kinds of decisions are made for you and when a person can start making decisions on your behalf.

Important Element #3: A durable power of attorney for health care decisions. When you can’t communicate what medical procedures you want or don’t want, then this instrument comes into action. You pick someone to make health care decisions for you when you can’t. Indiana law requires that every effort be made to find out what you want done.

Important Element #4: A living will. This document expresses your decisions when you’re terminally ill. The Indiana statute is very narrow. This document only comes into effect if these three conditions exist: (1) I have an incurable injury, disease, or illness; (2) your death will occur within a short time; and (3) the use of life prolonging procedures would serve only to artificially prolong the dying process. Most people are surprised to learn that Indiana’s Living Will statute does not cover comas. This document is most useful to express your desires when used along with the health care power of attorney.

Important Element #5: A trust. Do you need a trust? It depends. There are many kinds of trusts serving many different purposes. Some trusts can minimize taxes while others avoid probate. This is a very technical and ever changing area of the law. The most common kind of trust is the revocable living trust. This trust is set up during your life and all of your assets are transferred to it. You have the ability to make any changes to the trust during your life. If you become unable to make decisions while you are alive, the successor trustee can make them for you. This trust will often avoid guardianships. At your death your assets are distributed exactly as you want without the hassle and expense of probate. These trusts are not for everyone. They take time and effort to set up and maintain properly. If you leave too many assets outside of the trust you may have to go through probate anyway. Your estate planning or elder law attorney can guide you through the process of selecting and setting up any needed trusts.

Important Element #6: A long term care insurance policy. Did you know that 1 of 2 Women and 1 of 3 men over the age of 65 will need nursing home care at some point in their lifetime? Indiana has a very important program called the Indiana Long Term Care Insurance Program (ILTCIP). This program provides participants with the ability to protect their assets from being completely spent on nursing home expenses before qualifying for Medicaid. Long term care is one of the biggest threats to your hard earned assets. This program requires the use of certain long term care policies know as “partnership policies.” Find out more about Indiana Long Term Care Insurance Program. (in.gov/fssa/iltcp)

Important Element #7: Personal Estate Information Organizer. Imagine that you have to take over the decisions for someone else. Where do you start? What needs to be done? Who needs to be contacted? Where is everything? This often neglected but important part of your estate plan meets the needs for someone who must make decisions for you. This document pulls together all of the important information one needs when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. This saves countless hours and hardships for those you love who need to act on your behalf.

Please don’t wait until it is too late. One of your most important choices is who will make your important decisions when you no longer can. Don’t let the court or others make this critical choice for you. Remember that not every attorney handles estate planning and elder law matters. Ask your attorney if he is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) If you are missing any of these important elements, then consider contacting your elder law attorney to have your estate plan reviewed.

Indiana DUI Attorney

Indiana OWI Law

In the state of Indiana, driving a vehicle while under the influence is a crime. The penalties you face as a DUI offender can make your life difficult and attach a stigma to your name because of your new criminal record. The loss of driving privileges accompanying a DUI offense in Indiana can also make it difficult to meet your work and family obligations. With all of the consequences of a DUI offense, the best thing to do would be to avoid driving after consuming alcohol. If you weren’t able to do this, and you have been charged with an OWI, contacting an Indiana DUI attorney can help you to plan your defense and work your way through the legal proceedings as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Indiana OWI Laws

Indiana DUI law makes it possible to be prosecuted in two ways for drunk driving. If your driving ability has been impaired because you consumed alcohol, you can be charged with an OWI offense. In this case, you would be arrested and prosecuted based on your level impairment. Prosecutors may rely on testimony from law enforcement officials who witnessed your appearance and noticed bloodshot eyes or the smell of alcohol on our breath. Dangerous driving habits can also help prosecutors prove a case under the impairment theory. You can also be charged with OWI if chemical testing reveals that your blood alcohol concentration level exceeds the legal limit of 0.08%. In this case, you can be prosecuted based on the chemical testing results, even if officials saw nothing to indicate that you were impaired in any way. Indiana OWI law also allows for penalty enhancements when a person’s blood alcohol concentration level exceeds .15%. If you have been arrested and charged with an OWI offense, hiring an Indiana DUI lawyer can help you to present the best possible defense for your case and minimize the impact of any penalties that are imposed if you are convicted.

Indiana Chemical Testing

Indiana’s OWI laws are rather unique when compared with the DUI laws of other states in terms of chemical testing. In Indiana, the person suspected of driving under the influence has no choice of what chemical test to take. The law enforcement officer on the case can select a blood, urine, or breath test to determine the blood alcohol concentration level in the person’s blood. Indiana drivers who are asked to submit to chemical testing do not have the right to get legal counsel before taking the chemical test chosen by the law enforcement officer. Because of this strict rule, it is imperative that you have a skilled Indiana DUI lawyer by your side when you face your criminal charges and any license suspension proceedings conducted by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Having a qualified Indiana DUI attorney can help you to navigate the legal system successfully to win your case or minimize the penalties that you face if a conviction takes place.

Indiana OWI Criminal and Administrative Penalties

The criminal and administrative penalties for OWI in Indiana can include any combination of incarceration, fines, license suspension, and other penalties designed to discourage offenders from accumulating any repeat offenses. When you are arrested for OWI, the arresting officer will confiscate your driver’s license. You can apply for a duplicate license by contacting the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and filing any necessary paperwork. This duplicate license will come in handy if you need to prove your identity and don’t have your original license because it has been confiscated. Once your license has been suspended by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, then the duplicate license is not valid for driving or identification purposes.

The criminal penalties for driving under the influence increase with each offense. Having prior offenses can make the penalties imposed on you very difficult to comply with and still be able to meet your family and work obligations. First offenses result in probation, fines, payment of court costs, and license suspension. Some courts will require jail time, especially if the offense involved a chemical testing level of .15% or greater. Second offenses may result in jail time, probation, working with a road crew, higher fines, and payment of court costs. A second DUI may be charged as a felony and reduced at a later date. Third DUI offenses can result in a number of stringent consequences. If you have had prior convictions within a 10-year period, you are eligible to be branded with a habitual violator status. If this is the case, you will lose your license for 10 years, face three to nine months in jail, and have a long probation period. You may also have to attend drug and alcohol court.

There are also administrative driver’s license penalties for OWI in Indiana. Failing a chemical test results in a 180 day suspension and refusing to submit to a chemical test results in a one year license suspension. A refusal to take a chemical test also makes you ineligible for receiving any type of hardship permit at any point during your license suspension. Pleading guilty is actually the easiest way to deal with the suspension of your license. A guilty plea often allows offenders to choose a 90-day license suspension with high risk insurance. An offender may also choose a 30-day license suspension, followed by a 180 day probationary period where the only type of driving allowed is for work, medical appointments, or similar situations. You may not have to get the high risk insurance if you choose the probationary period of 180 days. If you want to save your driver’s license, you must file a lawsuit in circuit court and fight to save your driving privileges.

Repeat offenses are penalized depending on the time period and the number of the offense committed. If your most recent conviction was less than five years from your last conviction, the minimum license suspension period is one year. If the conviction is more than five years but less than ten years from the last conviction, the penalty is a 180 day suspension. If your most recent conviction is more than ten years from your last conviction, the minimum suspension period is 90 days. All of these suspension periods are minimums; they may be increased when other circumstances are considered. Having an Indiana DUI attorney on your side in an Indiana OWI case can help you to gather the information you need to beat the charges against you or minimize the penalties imposed if a conviction is obtained against you.

Changes in Indiana Employment Law

Should seasonal workers be allowed to collect unemployment benefits in their downtime? The State of Indiana recently passed legislation precluding seasonal workers from collecting unemployment benefits when they are laid off at the end of the season. See Indiana Code Section 22-4-3-5.

Aside from the political and economical issues with this new change in the law, this article discusses the new statute, provides practical implications, and addresses problematic issues.

Indiana Code Section 22-4-3-5 essentially provides that an employee is not unemployed (and thus not entitled to unemployment benefits) during any time that the Department of Workforce Development finds that the employee (1) is on vacation and (2) has not received compensation from the employer for that week because of either a written contract between the parties or because of the employer’s regular vacation policy and practice.

One of the exceptions to the above rule is that an employee will be entitled to unemployment benefits if the employee had no reasonable assurance from the employer that he or she will have employment available at the start of the following season.

For example, if the employer lays off the seasonal worker in December and tells the worker that there is no guarantee that a job will be available the following spring and that the worker would need to reapply for any job with the employer, then it is arguable that the worker would be entitled to unemployment benefits because there is no reasonable assurance of continued employment.

However, if the employer lays off the seasonal worker and tells the worker that he or she will be called back in the spring if there is employment, and the employer has engaged in the same practice for the past couple of years, then the seasonal worker will probably not be entitled to collect unemployment benefits because there was a reasonable assurance of continued employment.

This new approach seems to conflict with past law. In Fort Wayne Community Schools v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 428 N.E.2d 1379, 1383-1384 (Ind. Ct. App. 1981), the court held that the employee “had, at most, only a hope of being reemployed… [and] [t]his is not enough to constitute a reasonable assurance of continued employment… “.

Nonetheless, the key question that is presented with the new law is whether or not the employee had any reasonable assurance of continued employment when the employer laid the seasonal worker off.

Another exception to the rule is that the rule does not apply to a worker whose employer fails to comply with a department rule or policy regarding the filing of a notice in connection with separation arising from the vacation period. However, this exception is essentially meaningless because the Department of Workforce Development admittedly has no such rule or policy regarding the filing a notice.

In conclusion, just because a seasonal worker collected unemployment benefits in the past when he or she was laid off, does not mean that that same seasonal worker will be entitled to collect unemployment benefits in light of the new law.

Indiana Workers Compensation Act: Termination of Wage Replacement Benefits for Failing Drug Screen

Under the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act there are normally three different benefits that an injured worker can except to receive. First, the injured worker can expect that his or her employer will pay for all medical treatment for the work-related injury. Second, the injured work can expect to receive wage replacement benefits otherwise known as temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits. Third, the injured can expect to receive compensation for any permanent injury as a result of the work-related injury. This happens when a permanent partial impairment (“PPI”) rating is assigned after the injuried worker reaches maximum medical improvement (“MMI”).

With respect to TTD benefits, there are several different events that can occur resulting in the TTD benefits being terminated. Normally, TTD benefits are terminated once the injured worker reaches MMI, that is, once the treating doctor has concluded that the injured worker has returned to his or her baseline level or MMI.

However, sometimes the wage replacement benefits are terminated because the injured worker refuses work that is offered to him or her that is within the doctor’s restrictions. In other instances, the TTD benefits might be terminated because the injured worker tests positive for drugs or alcohol and is terminated from his or her employment.

If the injured worker fails a drug screen, then the employer may terminate the employee’s employment. Once the employee is terminated, the employer has no obligation to pay wage replacement benefits. If the failed drug screen occurred immediately after the work-related injury the termination of wage replacement benefits will like be upheld by the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board.

However, if the employee is terminated from his or her employment because of a failed drug screen that was randomly administered several months after the work-related incident and while the employee is off work as a result of the work-related injury, the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board is not likely to uphold the termination of wage replacement benefits.

There are several considerations that are taken into account, including the type of drug consumed, the amount, as well as the time that has elapsed since the employee was taken off work. If the employee fails a random drug screen, there certainly is not any basis for contesting the termination, but there would be a basis for contesting the termination of TTD benefits because there really is not a good faith reason for cutting off the wage replacement benefits because of a failed drug screen.

The Worker’s Compensation Board is likely to carry out the humane purposes of the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act and not allow the employer to cut off wage replacement benefits just because the employee failed a drug screen while he or she was off work due to the work-related injury.

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Indiana Employment Law

A topic in Indiana employment law that recently has generated some interesting debates involves the Wage Payment Statute under Ind. Code. 22-2-5 and the Wage Claims Statute under Ind. Code. 22-2-9. Both of these statutes govern the options available to an employee who believes his or her employer has failed to pay wages owed. However, it is important to know the differences between the two statutes.

First, the Wage Payment Statute governs the time within which employers must pay wages to their employees. If an employee assigns a wage payment claim to the Department of Labor (“DOL”) and the DOL accepts that assignment, the employee cannot bring a lawsuit under the Wage Payment Statute, unless the DOL ratifies, is substituted, or joins the employee’s lawsuit.

Second, Wage Claims Statute concerns disputes over the amount of compensation. Claims under the Wage Claims Statute must be filed with the DOL. After filing an application with the DOL, a waiver or referral must be requested from the DOL or the Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) so the employee’s attorney can proceed with the lawsuit.

Submitting an application to the DOL is relatively easy. Normally, the employee’s attorney will handle the process and submit the application using forms provided by the DOL. Otherwise, an application for wage claim can be filed online through the DOL’s website.

It is important to discuss with an attorney or the DOL, if the employee does not have an attorney, the various requirements regarding filing an application. For example, the DOL will refuse to process the application if the employee’s basis is minimum wage, overtime, holiday pay, or sick pay. Additionally, the DOL will not process the application if the employer has filed for bankruptcy is not located in the State of Indiana. Also, if you performed the work as an independent contractor, the DOL will not process the application. The DOL will only process applications if the claim is between $30.00 or $6,000. In all other situations, the employee will need to retain an attorney.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently addressed the Wage Claim Statute and the Wage Payment Statute in the case Walczak v. Labor Works – Fort Wayne LLC, 983 N.E.2d 1146 (Ind. 2013). This decision clarified what claims are to be brought under the Wage Payment Statute, as opposed to the Wage Claims Statute.

The Walczak case turned on the meaning of “separated from the pay-roll” as that term is used in the Wage Claims Act. The supreme court found that the issue was truly jurisdictional; if the worker was involuntarily separated from the payroll, the trial court had no jurisdiction over her claim, but if she voluntarily left her employment, the trial court did have jurisdiction.

The supreme court concluded that when an employee who did not leave her job on her own terms made a claim for wages, it made sense to subject her claim to administrative review before it may proceed directly to court. A day labor employee was not separate from the pay-roll for the purposes of the Wage Claim Act unless that employee had no immediate expectation of possible future employment with the same employer. The worker did have such an immediate expectation. She continued to work for the agency on a sporadic basis for the next four weeks. The worker was not separated from the pay-roll and need not comply with the requirements of the Wage Claims Act.

The Walczak case extended the law and held that “[w]hen an employee who did not leave her job on her own terms makes a claim for wages, it makes sense to subject her claim to administrative review before it may proceed directly to court.” An employee is not separated from the payroll for the purpose of the Wage Claims Act unless than employee has no immediate expectation of possible future employment with the same employer.

7 Attorney Mistakes on LinkedIn

I am not a social media expert but rather an attorney who uses social media. Social media skills have been something I have learned over time, by trial and error, starting with my Facebook account in 2005. Intentional usage of social media as a networking tool is something I didn’t begin until later, as I began learning how to network. There is a dance to be learned with both traditional networking and with social media networking. As an attorney less than three years into practice, I’m still learning how to improve my networking dance, but over time I have picked up on several mistakes that I or others have made while using social media. Here are some common LinkedIn mistakes specific to attorneys:

Complying with attorney ethics rules.

Although this section will be considered the most important section by many attorneys, I intend to keep it short. There are a lot of seminars and articles that scare attorneys away from social media; these seminars and articles focus more on ethical issues than on giving advice on how to effectively use social media. This is unfortunate: social media is here to stay and attorneys should learn how to use it.

LinkedIn profiles are construed as advertising in some states and so you should ensure that your profile complies with your state’s ethical rules. If you are an Indiana attorney, make sure your profile complies with Rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Indiana Professional Rules of Conduct. As of October 2010, the Rules were modified and the former rule that testimonials are absolutely not permitted has been eliminated. You still need to be cautious if you want to have testimonials: pursuant to the Comments in Rule 7.1, third parties cannot make statements about you that you could not make about yourself. Also, if you are admitted to the bar in Indiana, you should not list a “specialty” on your LinkedIn profile unless you are certified by an agency or fall under one of the other exceptions of Rule 7.4.

Although this section was listed first, the remaining sections are equally important as they cover mistakes that negate your original purpose for joining LinkedIn. Attorneys are trained from law school to read and interpret ethics rules whereas the business potential and networking uses behind social media are usually learned over time while in practice. Don’t let the risks of ethical violations subsume your purpose for joining LinkedIn.

Failing to target your audience.

Targeting your audience is an important step: you need to do this to get more benefit out of LinkedIn.

Who are you hoping will see your profile? Potential clients? Potential employers? Legal recruiters? Potential partners? Potential referral sources? Others who can help further your career?

The audience will affect how you should portray yourself on LinkedIn and how you use LinkedIn. If you’re aiming for multiple audiences, like most attorneys, then you will need to try to keep all of your target audiences in mind. LinkedIn frequently shows up as an individual’s first “hit” in an online search and so it is a great way to market to those who are researching you.

Using the proper headline on Linked In.

Your headline is the first thing that potential connections, recruiters, and others will see. LinkedIn automatically uses your current job title unless you take the step to edit your title: on your Edit Profile page, click on the “edit” button just above your name and title.

This correction is important as the headline is your first opportunity to market who you are. More importantly, your headline needs to include those words that would be used in a search by your target audience. If you want a potential client to find you in a search of “Indianapolis” and “attorney,” you need to have “attorney” in your headline. You may not show up in results if you only display that you are a “Partner,” “Associate,” “CEO,” etc., of such-and-such law firm. If you are an associate or partner who is hoping a recruiter will discover you in a search of associates or partners at your firm, you may want to keep using “Associate” or “Partner.” Even if you edit your headline, your official title at your law firm can still be used in your Experience section.

Finally, you may want to consider putting your practice area(s) in your headline, so that people will know you as an Intellectual Property attorney or a Corporate Reorganization attorney.

“Career Opportunities.”

If you are currently employed, you should consider avoiding “career opportunities” as an option in the Interested In section of LinkedIn. I have seen several currently employed associates and partners list this on their profile. Your current employer could see this and there is no reason to risk appearing disloyal; the employment economy for attorneys is still poor so don’t risk losing your position before you are ready to make a jump.

Failing to stay active on LinkedIn.

Unless you simply wanted your resume on the internet, there is not much point of making a profile and then leaving it to sit in cyber world. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for improving your professional relationships.

A better use for LinkedIn would be to take the opportunity to build respect from your colleagues or potential clients. You can post articles, blog posts, and newsworthy information; these posts will go into the updates feed that your connections will see. These updates will also remain on your profile unless you specifically delete the posts. Every so often, you can make updates to your Experience, Summary, or another section on your profile as a way to tempt people to look at it; the more often an individual looks at your profile, the more likely that individual will remember your experience and areas of practice.

Using posts in this way is a low effort technique of completing the traditional networking dance: after making initial contact with a new connection, you should follow-up to make the connection stronger. While posting updates is not as effective as making a phone call or having lunch as a follow-up, it is better than failing to follow-up at all. If you’re good at using the update feature, you can keep more people following you with less effort than traditional networking. This strategy is most effective when you use it as a method of supplementing traditional networking rather than replacing traditional networking.

Failing to brand your activity on LinkedIn.

When utilizing LinkedIn’s updates feed to post articles, blogs, etc., you have an opportunity to brand yourself to your connections. You should determine who your target audience is on LinkedIn and decide how you want to be perceived by that audience. Branding your posts can be a method of helping people connect specific characteristics, traits, or facts to you so that when certain legal issues or topics arise, people will contact you.

Whether you are focusing on building referrals or client development, if you practice in a specific area of law, you will want people to think of you when specific legal issues arise for them or their clients in that area of law. Legal articles can be good items to post but sometimes even lawyers find scholarly articles something to put at the bottom of their reading pile; consider posting interesting news articles or interesting commentary related to issues in your areas of law so that your posts are more likely to be read. These posts can help people to remember your areas of practice.

Although this next tip might not necessarily be a branding technique, I also like to attempt to intentionally increase the general goodwill and respect I receive by posting good quality articles and blogs that are aimed towards attorneys in general. Sometimes my posts will involve general practice management, networking advice, or commentary on the law profession. Thoughtful articles can leave a good impression with your colleagues and help them with their own practice and career. As referrals from other attorneys continue to be a large source of business for attorneys, I consider colleagues a target audience and the potential goodwill I could gain an investment.

Finally, be prepared to have different branding plans for LinkedIn versus other social media platforms you might be utilizing; not only will you likely have a different audience on each of the different social media platforms, each of the social media platforms are utilized by their users very differently. My Peace Corps background and love for Indianapolis has been helping me develop a following on Twitter more than my legal background; a few legal-related tweets thrown in helps circle them back to the fact I am an attorney.

Failing to actively add connections on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn searches operate in a unique way: when someone searches for an attorney, individuals who that individual are connected with will first show up in the search results. When there are not any “first degree” connections, LinkedIn will next try to show individuals who are connected to that person’s connections, i.e., “second degree” connections. Ultimately, the more contacts you have, the higher likelihood you will show up in the first page of someone’s search results even if you do not know that person. I have already entered into local counsel contracts as a result of this process even though I didn’t personally know a single individual that the hiring firm knew.

Increasing the number of contacts you have is an important way to be found on LinkedIn if you want to be found by clients, recruiters, and others. I’ve spent numerous hours hunting down individuals I served with in the Peace Corps, classmates from college and law school, and more in an attempt to have connections in more cities in the United States so as to further increase the likelihood I will show up in search results. (If the intent behind forming those LinkedIn connections sounded rather cold, you should also be aware that I was already connected with most of those individuals on Facebook which I consider a better platform for maintaining personal relationships.) To continue to increase your contacts, consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile to your email signature.

LinkedIn suggests that you only add individuals that you personally know; I generally follow this advice with only a few exceptions. If your primary focus is on improving your search rankings, you should ignore this advice and connect with as many people as possible. If you use this method, be prepared for questions from those strangers on how you know the connections that you share with them.

Sources for Further Improvement.

These tips are specifically aimed towards attorneys but there are numerous resources out there to further assist you in improving your profile that are not attorney specific. Chris Brogan’s blog is a great resource for common sense tips on how to improve your profile; the blog can be found at chrisbrogan.com. His book Social Media 101 comprises many of his blog posts and is an excellent source for introducing yourself to social media. I also recommend reading the following blog posts at Blue Sky Resumes and Executive Resume Branding, here and here, which lists common mistakes generally made by users on LinkedIn. I found both lists to be helpful.