Your professional biography is one of the most important pieces of copy you’ll ever write about yourself. It’s your opportunity to showcase your work, capabilities, areas of expertise and what makes you stand out from your competitors.
Many in-house counsel cite lawyer bios as one of the most important sources of information regarding researching outside lawyers (yes, everyone is Googling you and your bio is usually the number one search result of your name). In addition, lawyer bios are among the most trafficked pages on law firm web sites.
Your bio can serve as an important business development tool if it is well-crafted. Yet within the legal industry, so many bios are still lackluster, outdated, not client-focused or just plain poorly written.
Given the power of bios, it has always baffled me that many lawyers do not update theirs at least several times a year or write them with a client focus. Any down time you have or right before a pitch or a speaking engagement are all great reasons to take a fresh look at your bio and them more engaging and client-focused. Now let’s get to work!
The Big Picture
First things first – why are we even here? Because surveys have shown that clients make buying decisions about outside counsel from people they like and trust – and who they believe are subject matter experts (in that order).
How does this relate to a lawyer bio?
The main purpose of a bio is to persuade potential clients to become clients and to reinforce to existing clients and referrals – that you are the very best at what you do in your respective area. Clients want to know how you can help them, period. Most of them don’t care about the specific details on your resume – they want to know about your specific experiences and if you can jump right into their matters and solve their legal issues.
The takeaway: Make it easy for people to like you, and evaluate your credentials and experience right off the bat.
E.T. Phone Home
I cannot tell you how many bios do not clearly list a lawyer’s contact information and include links to their social media profiles. You must make it easy for prospects and clients to find you.
Include your direct phone line and email address front and center on the bio. Offer a downloadable vCard. Provide links to relevant social media profiles, most importantly, to LinkedIn profiles. Ensure that the bio includes links to all publications, events and news (and update these periodically throughout the year).
These are basics but they are important.
Another bio basic is on having a great professional headshot.
Every bio should include a professional headshot, period. Why? Because clients and prospects want to know what you look like – it can make them feel more comfortable with hiring you. A professional photo is the norm today on a lawyer’s web bio and LinkedIn profile, and you should look approachable in that photo.
There are a few firms out there that have chosen to have their lawyers look like “bulldogs” in their lawyer bios so they appear to be formidable forces in the courtroom. I personally think this is a huge mistake, and instead makes some of those lawyers look unapproachable and makes them the kinds of people I would want to avoid versus hire! Your lawyer bio photos aren’t the place in which to take big risks – save that for other areas of your marketing.
Do Your Homework
One of the most helpful things I’ve recommended to lawyers when updating bios and LinkedIn profiles is to print out the profiles of their top 10 competitors and read through them very closely before making any updates to their own materials.
Note what you like (and do not like) about the competition’s materials. Then use these profiles as inspiration to make yours even better. A little friendly competition always works wonders with lawyers.
Showing vs. Telling
In order to stand out from your competitors, think about “showing” versus “telling” when drafting your bio.
This is the concept of demonstrating that you are a leader in your field versus telling someone. Give specific examples that show how you are the best litigator or transactional lawyer in your field without throwing in the kitchen sink (remember that brevity is best when it comes to writing for the web – you do not want your bio to print out to be 15 pages), representing your knowledge, illustrating your industry and practice experience. Your goal is to be humble and to find ways for your accomplishments to speak for themselves through your body of work.
Give specific examples that show how you are the best…
Downplay awards and recognitions, and aim to write them in way that they support and illustrate your work, or to use them to focus on the client instead. Either include them in a separate sidebar section linked to the bio or include them as the last paragraph.
Step into Your Readers’ Shoes/Write for Your Audience
Always remember to write with your clients and prospective clients in mind. Don’t write a lengthy novel and try to keep the overall bio concise. Structure your bio using subheadings and bullets to make it easy for the reader to follow. Avoid repetition by mixing up sentence structure. Don’t start every paragraph with your name (one of the worst bio sins in our industry!). Don’t write in formal terms, and don’t use defined terms or legalese under any circumstances.
Always write for your audience – remember that often your clients aren’t actually lawyers, so adjust the tone of your bio to resonate most effectively with your audience. Short paragraphs and subheadings with descriptors are key (just like I’m using in this article). Use keywords throughout the bio that truly describe what you do for better SEO-ranking purposes.
Ensure that all of your leadership positions, community service activity, awards, publications, court admissions and other extracurricular activities are updated on your bio. And please don’t include activities from the dinosaur age – it just looks like filler.
How to Shape the Narrative
Taking the show vs. tell concept a step further, when working on bios, I always ask lawyers the following questions as a guide to help shape the narrative, which also helps to fine tune their professional brand. The answers to these questions will help you craft a strong opening paragraph as well as guide the structure and content for the entire bio that focuses, again, on showing versus telling.
- Why do you do what you do?
- What inspires you to do this work?
- Why did you decide to practice law?
- What issues are keeping your clients up at night?
- What has been the key to your success?
- What do you enjoy most about what you do?
- For what do you want to be known?
- What makes you stand out from your competitors?
- What are your greatest strengths as an attorney?
Always ask them to talk more about anything they did that was first of its kind or watershed – these are great positioning tools to help differentiate them.
I recommend recording lawyers’ responses to the above questions (either on video or audio) so that you can repurpose them for other content use. Depending on what they say, you can turn the answers to those questions into topics for a future webinar or CLE program, PR content, a client alert, social media posts, a Q&A for recruiting, pro bono or diversity, and so much more.
The Million Dollar Question – Can You Help Me?
Most clients don’t really care where you went to school, what associations of which you are a member (unless they are somehow connected to those organizations/schools – so never lie or embellish). What they want to know is: how can you help me?
That’s why it’s so important to include specific information and examples on what you’ve accomplished for previous clients – think about novel solutions that you devised for other clients and creative problem solving strategies. Try to distill down the lessons learned into a few bullet points that you can include in your experience section, a client spotlight or even in the narrative. Include any “first of its kind” or watershed things that you did for a client as well. This is your time to shine – just do it in a way that doesn’t pat yourself too hard on the back, I call this the “humblebrag” – and it’s a fine art of talking about your successes without sounding too boastful.
I’ve seen a growing trend of professional bios that include some personal information (but not too personal), such as answering the questions what you do in your free time or the fun activities you partake in with your family. A small snapshot of who you are as a person can go a long way. You are more than an attorney. Clients like to see you show a little bit of who you are outside of the office.
Clients want to hire real people to do their work – not boring lawyers. So many law firm bios fail to capture the personality and human side of their lawyers. It’s not easy to do when you are running a major law firm and when you want to maintain a culture of professionalism, but there are ways to let clients know more about the real you. For example, do you volunteer in the community? Do you like to sail or sing in the opera? Are you training for a marathon? Are you involved in pro bono work? Do you like dogs? These are the types of things to highlight in your bio because they show good judgment, character and a little bit of personality. If your firm allows it, think about what you do outside the office that is interesting about you or says something about your ability to do good work and find a way to include it in your bio. It will help you to be memorable.
Create a Client-Centric, Easy-to-Read Structure
So many bios start and end each paragraph the same exact way. Many law firm bios start each paragraph with the lawyer’s name, which just looks terrible (and lazy). For example: “Jim’s practice focuses on…” or “David represents a wide range of…” or “Andrea handles a variety of complex…” Or even worse, they use the terms “depth and breadth” or “deep bench” (expunge these words from your vocabulary!).
Also, always make it easy for the reader to follow along with the bio – use short, succinct sentences and paragraphs. Use bulleted lists where you can. Use headers to break up longer bios.
On experience lists, don’t throw in the kitchen sink there either. Use bullets to break up long lists of matters/experience but please only include the most important representative matters and write about them in client-centric terms, using real client names as much as you can.
Lose the Formality
It is important to factor in tone of voice of your bio on each platform. It should be targeted to your audience and context. I am really surprised that a number of law firms are still using Mr. or Mrs. in their bios. Remember, you are talking to potential clients, are they really going to call you by your full formal name? No! You’re also writing for the web, which is much less formal in tone. I think the firms that continue to use the full formal names like this seem detached from current times and are doing themselves a disservice. They also can make themselves and their lawyers seem snooty and unapproachable. Replacing “Mr. Smith” with “Bob Smith” really does change the entire tone of a bio.
Create a Strong Bio – The Cliff Notes Version
Here are my top tips for creating a strong, engaging bio that concentrates on the client-centric, show vs. tell concept:
- Use short, succinct sentences and paragraphs – less is actually much more
- Use bulleted lists to break up lists of matters/experience but only include the most important representative matters and write about them in client-centric terms
- Organize text with subheadings by industry or area – think about what would make the most sense to the reader
- Avoid repetition by mixing up sentence structure
- Don’t write in legalese and don’t rehash your resume
- Cite specific examples with targeted keywords to enhance SEO
- Add examples where you did something that was “first of its kind” or “groundbreaking”
- Don’t bore readers with overused phrases, similar sentence construction, clichés (i.e. “depth and breadth” or “deep bench”)
- Add articles and speaking engagements to boost subject-matter expertise (but don’t go back to the beginning of time)
- Be discreet with awards and honors
- Showcase community involvement
- Always think client-centric and show vs. tell and you will always be on the right path
- Update your bio regularly (at least every six months)
- Don’t cut and paste your web bio to your LinkedIn profile – you will look like you have no idea how to use social media
- Regularly proofread your bio – nothing is worse than spending all this time creating a great bio just to find out that you have typos in it
Show How Much You Care
I can’t stress enough the importance of #11 on the list above: “showcase community involvement.”
Clients really do care if their lawyers are engaged and giving back to the communities in which they live and work through nonprofit, volunteer or pro bono work. These are the kinds of activities that you want to actively promote in your bio, on LinkedIn and on your social media networks.
Good works and shared interests can be powerful connectors in building potential relationships with clients and referral sources. As the most viewed section of a law firm web site, your bio can serve as a great resource to help you effectively convey this information.
A Few Words About LinkedIn Bios
Bios on LinkedIn are included in the summary section, and LinkedIn caps them at 2,000 characters (that’s really not a lot of space). So keep it succinct, write it in a more casual tone than your web bio (don’t cut and paste it verbatim – and definitely don’t refer to yourself as Mr. Smith!). Do not be too boastful (this is not the place to toot your own horn too much with a laundry list of your awards and rankings because it’s written directly from you).
Adopting a Client-Centric, Show vs. Tell Mindset IS the Right Answer
Your lawyer bio, as well as every single piece of content generated by your firm, should always be written with your clients in mind. So always use language your clients understand. Always think about showing versus telling. And always write a bio thinking about why someone should hire you and what unique attributes you bring to the table. Keeping these concepts in mind will most definitely help you stand out from the thousands of average lawyer biographies.