Your professional biography is your opportunity to showcase your work, capabilities and 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 whether you like it or not and your web bio is usually the number one search result of your name). In addition, lawyer bios are among the most visited pages on law firm web sites, further underscoring their importance.

Your bio can serve as an important business development and branding tool if it is well-crafted. Yet within the legal industry, so many bios are still lackluster, outdated, not client-focused or just poorly written.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. The new year is a great reason to take a fresh look at your bio and make enhancements to it.

I recently wrote a much longer version of an article on creating a strong, engaging bio for JD Supra, which you can read here. This is an excerpt of that article, which concentrates on the show vs. tell concept, an essential component that many law firm bios are missing. The article also focuses on the idea that all bios should be client-focused and that you should always write for your audience, not your peers. Remember that often, your clients aren’t actually practicing lawyers, and even if they are, the world today isn’t as formal as it used to be (especially as clients are getting younger), so drop the legalese from your vernacular and speak in a more casual tone to your audience. Now let’s get to work!

Step into Your Readers’ Shoes and Write for Today’s Audience

A good rule of thumb to always keep in mind is to write with your clients and prospective clients in mind. This is what I mean by saying be more “client focused.”

Since we are writing web copy and it will likely be adapted for social media uses such as a LinkedIn summary (which will cut you off at 2,000 characters, not words), don’t write a lengthy novel and try to keep the overall bio succinct.

Avoid repetition like the plague by mixing up sentence structure. For example, don’t start every paragraph with your name (which is one of the worst bio sins in our industry and even worse if you use formal names such as Mr. Smith!). Don’t use defined terms or legalese under any circumstances.

Again, putting the reader first, structure the body text using subheadings or bullets to make it easy for the reader to follow along and so the reader can skip right to relevant sections of your experience that may interest them. Short paragraphs are key (just like I’m using in this article). Each of these tools just make it easier for the reader to absorb the information in your bio.

Adjust the message to the medium at all times – are you writing a bio for the web? LinkedIn? A conference? If yes, what kind of conference? Ensure your tone fits the situation at hand – one size does not fit all. Let me give you an example – if you are speaking to a group of young tech entrepreneurs, your bio will be a lot different in tone than the bio that you would be using if you were speaking at an Association of Corporate Counsel panel of distinguished lawyers. In neither case would you use formal names (Mr./Ms./Mrs.) or speak in too formal terms, but you would certainly adjust your tone for the audience at hand.

Most importantly, as I said earlier, often your clients aren’t actually lawyers, so adjust the tone and wording of your bio to speak directly to them. Go one step further and do the same for practice descriptions as well.

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 what you do versus telling someone.

For example, provide 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 don’t 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.

When including representative matters – which I think all lawyers should – but really only just a few (not a laundry list) and the list should be updated annually, list anything that was first of its kind or watershed – these are great differentiating tools. Do not throw in the kitchen sink, think about matters that are truly demonstrative of what you do and your strengths. Use your most recent Chambers matters as a helpful starting point in assembling your list of representative matters. Make every word count and even if you can’t talk about a specific client, try to say something that is more illustrative of what you did on that matter than just “represented a cross-border investment fund in a real estate development” – again think show vs. tell. What was unique or interesting about the matter? What did you do that was novel? How did you go above and beyond for the client? Whatever you do, do not use up valuable word count by listing lengthy case names and citations and don’t include matters from the dinosaur age.

Try to downplay your awards and recognitions (don’t put them in your first or second paragraph under any circumstances!), 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.

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?

I recommend recording the responses to the above questions (either on video or audio) so that you can repurpose them for other content uses. Depending on what your lawyers’ 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 the list goes on. Online transcription service will become your best friend in this area – it is a fast and easy way to convert audio to text. You upload a file from your mobile phone and then they transcribe it and email you a transcript in minutes. The cost is 10 per min.

Create a Stronger, Engaging Bio – The CliffsNotes Version

Here’s the lightening round on creating a stronger, engaging bio (for more details on each of these, see the full version of this article.)

  1. Use short, succinct sentences and paragraphs – less is actually much more
  2. 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
  3. Organize text with subheadings by industry or area – think about what would make the most sense to the reader
  4. Avoid repetition by mixing up sentence structure
  5. Don’t write in legalese and don’t rehash your resume
  6. Cite specific examples with targeted keywords to enhance SEO
  7. Add examples where you did something that was “first of its kind” or “groundbreaking”
  8. Don’t bore readers with overused phrases, similar sentence construction, clichés (i.e. “depth and breadth” or “deep bench”)
  9. Add articles and speaking engagements to boost subject-matter expertise (but don’t go back to the beginning of time)
  10. Be discreet with awards and honors
  11. Showcase community involvement
  12. Always think client-centric and show vs. tell and you will always be on the right path
  13. Update your bio regularly (at least every six months)
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. Use keywords throughout the bio that truly describe what you do for better SEO-ranking purposes.

Show How Much You Care

I can’t stress enough the importance of #10 on the list above: “showcase community involvement.”

Clients really do care if their outside counsel 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.

In addition, 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.

Adopting a Client-Centric, Show vs. Tell Mindset is Always the Right Answer

Your 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 it thinking about why someone should hire you and what is unique about you. Keeping these concepts in mind will help you stand out from the thousands of average lawyer biographies.

The full version of this article – with a lot more information, and bells and whistles – was published by JD Supra. You can read it here.