I have reviewed tens of thousands of law firm Web bios during my career. Setting aside the diminution in my visual acuity as a result of that activity, my overwhelming, consensus reaction can be aptly characterized by one word: “meh.” While there are some outliers on both ends of the spectrum, the vast majority are unremarkable and seemingly interchangeable.
My guess is that the readers of this column do not regard themselves as unremarkable. After all, you likely excelled in school and have worked very hard to make yourself an outstanding lawyer. I trust that you don’t tell prospective clients that you “are about as good as everyone else”; rather, you accentuate how you differ from the rest. So, why would you use a Web bio that is virtually indistinguishable from others?
That question is actually much more important than one may suspect. In a 2009 study of general counsel performed by the Wicker Park Group (www.wickerparkgroup.com), 100 percent of the respondents affirmed that they reviewed a law firm’s website when purchasing legal services. Of particular interest was the revelation that 90 percent said that the attorneys’ bio section is the most important part of a firm’s site and is the one they visit the most.
With that in mind, don’t you want that bio to shine and to stand out from the crowd? There are some Web bio basics that are well known — such as keeping your information current and not overselling your skills — that everyone should follow. I will examine three more that are real difference makers.
Make Your Bio Powerful
If you are presenting a case to a jury or are making a pitch for business, do you simply recite facts in a hum drum fashion? Well, most Web bios follow the same, boring format, as they sleepily list the lawyer’s schools, areas of practice, the organizations he belongs to, and an accomplishment or two. These are important elements that should form the basis of bios, but the language used and the manner in which they are laid out would benefit from just a bit of panache and, to use a colloquial term, “juice.”
My recommendation is to lose the passive voice and replace it with action words that better convey your passion, enthusiasm and other attributes that help to separate you from others. For example, rather than simply note that you “represent” specific or certain types of companies, a focus on your zealous defense of clients or the creative strategies you employ on their behalf would be much more compelling.
In a similar vein, accentuate your most saleable achievements, especially those that differentiate you. For example, there are many terrific lawyers who are solid “litigators,” but there is a smaller group that actually tries cases, and an even more select few who have consistently received favorable verdicts for their clients. If you are in that exclusive club, you are doing yourself a disservice by not concisely discussing the result you achieved and the magnitude of the cases. Results and specific achievements are especially of interest to in-house counsel, not a rote recitation of the type of work you do.
Your picture is an important part of your Web bio, and, to make that bio powerful, a good picture is a must. A first rule of order is to ensure you are relaxed when the picture is taken. Some firms use the quasi-action shot, in which their lawyers are standing and often doing something else, such as holding a briefcase, legal pad or pen. This works for some, but for others it is readily apparent that they are uncomfortable, and this comes through in the picture. This is to be avoided. If you feel uneasy in such a circumstance, insist that you be allowed to sit down — the photographer works for you, and your firm will be better off than if you are forced into a posture that makes you feel awkward.
Additionally, make sure you are smiling in the picture. You do not need the type of big smile that would be expected if you were headlining a comedy club act — a simple, genuine smile suffices. Studies have shown that a smile increases someone’s willingness to trust by about 10 percent (see, “The Value of a Smile: Game Theory with a Human Face,” Scharlemann, Journal of Economic Psychology , October 2001).
As you hope to build a relationship with clients, that trust element is important. As such, forgo the imperious look or the steely glance over glasses perched on the bridge of your nose in your picture — they are off-putting and put a barrier between you and the viewer of your bio.
Target Your Audience
Before you reflexively draft the one-size-fits-all bio, step back and think about who your primary and secondary audiences are. Depending on the stage of your career, the practice you have, and what your goals are, those audiences are likely to be different. This analysis is essential, as you should develop a bio that is tailored more toward your primary audience.
Typical audiences for most law firm lawyers would include existing and potential clients, other private-practice lawyers (if referrals are important to you), lawyers in government positions (including the judiciary), members of civic, charitable and business organizations, journalists and, yes, even recruiters if you want to be on the radar screen for a move in-house or to another firm someday.
My thesis is that it is a mistake to draft a bio that gives relatively equal attention to all these constituencies. If you did so, the bio would likely be too long and would be dilutive. Rather, it would be much more effective to tailor your bio toward your critical audience and include a few bullet points at the end that cover the bases for your secondary and even tertiary audiences.
As an example, consider the plight of a rising, but junior level, IP litigation partner who is really trying to build his own practice. This lawyer is an integral member of his team and has second chaired trials, but he has no real business of his own, as his time has been devoted to supporting his firm and team’s clients. The lawyer has now seen the light and is highly motivated to developing his own client base.
This lawyer realizes that referrals are unlikely to be a key business source, as the competition is fierce for work and it almost always has come in to lawyers on his team directly from clients. He thus should focus his bio on a primary audience of corporate counsel and on startups (that may have no in-house lawyers). The bio, then, as discussed, above, should focus on his specific achievements and the role he has played, as those factors will be important in a hiring decision.
An important secondary audience for this lawyer, though, should be journalists, as building his profile is likely to be quite important if he wants to be a rainmaker. Consequently, if he has been quoted in publications, those should be listed, along with links to the corresponding articles. If the cupboard is bare in this department, it is critical that the lawyer write a few topical and captivating articles (whether they are in trade journals or even firm newsletters). Once these are published, they should similarly be added and linked to the bio, so that journalists can see that the lawyer is on the cutting edge, has well-reasoned opinions, and thus, will hopefully make a good interview subject.
The remainder of the bio can touch on the other audiences, but, at least at this stage of the lawyer’s career, less attention should be paid to them. For example, since the lawyer’s focus now is on developing business, skip the reference to the time that was spent on the rules committee of the litigation committee of the local bar association. That may be important at some other time in the lawyer’s life (especially if he wants to become more involved in the bar), but, for now, it detracts from the overriding goal and uses valuable space on the screen.
Make Your Bio Search-Engine Friendly
There is little value in creating a Web bio if others cannot find or discover you when they perform Web searches. Even if you create the killer bio I know you can, it will not be of real benefit unless others read it. You may not be too concerned about that, especially if you are in a major law firm, as you likely think that your firm’s IT group, marketing department and Web developers surely have created a site that will help to place you quite high in the Google rankings, right? If you answered yes, think again.
In preparing for this article, I did three somewhat random Google searches to see where lawyers in Am Law 100 and 200 firms rank on some basic searches that are likely to be among those undertaken by in-house counsel and others in looking for lawyers. I assumed that the larger platform and superior resources of these firms would result in lawyers from these firms, at a minimum, being on the first page of Google results, if not at the top. Consider these findings:
• In a search for “Philadelphia white collar attorney,” not one lawyer from one of the 200 largest firms in the country appeared in the first four pages of the Google results. The first mention of a lawyer from such a firm appeared on page five, and that result was not even from the firm’s own website.
• In a search for “New York labor and employment attorney,” the first link to a lawyer in one of the 200 largest firms was on page 11 of the search results.
• In a search of “Chicago commercial litigation attorney,” the first result for a lawyer in one of the 200 largest firms was on page five (and that lawyer is in a non-Chicago firm).
Before you lash out at those who play a role in your firm in this respect, please note that it may be easier for boutiques that focus on one area of practice, and even solos, to load their websites and meta tags with keywords that help them place higher in Google rankings. Nevertheless, one would think that larger firms, especially if they are paying money to SEO (search engine optimization) specialists, would not be outwitted here and should still benefit from much higher Web traffic.
So, what can you, as in individual lawyer in a firm do (apart from rattling some cages in your organization)? Absent reading an SEO book or taking a course (which may be pointless, anyway, as it is extraordinarily unlikely that your firm would ever let you touch its code), do some research on the terms that someone is likely to use if he is looking for a lawyer like you. Some of this should be self-evident, but there are some good online tools available that show you how various search terms are ranked as they relate to specific terms.
For instance, in the white-collar example, above, it turns out that the inclusion of the word “criminal” is crucial, as a high percentage of users use that word when searching for a white-collar lawyer. Once you have determined what words will help drive traffic to your bio, make sure that you include those words in the body of the bio and, if possible, even in the titles of links to articles and presentations. You very likely will see your ranking jump much higher. •
Frank Michael D’Amore is the founder of Attorney CareerCatalysts, a Pennsylvania basedl egal recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on law firm mergers and partner placements. He is a former partner in an Am Law 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at email@example.com.