A recent Legal affiliate Corporate Counsel blog post, “For In-House Counsel, Work Is Happening Online,” highlights the increasing use of Web-based resources by in-house counsel. The article, based on the 2015 Canadian Legal Digital Survey conducted by fSquared Marketing, discusses why and how corporate counsel look to the Internet to help them accomplish their work—including the work of identifying, vetting and hiring outside counsel. According to the article, one of the top reasons that in-house counsel use Web-based resources is to help make informed hiring decisions. And the most important online resource cited by respondents?
More than three-quarters of all of the respondents in the survey—78 percent—indicated that they use attorney bios to research and hire outside counsel. The only resource they identified as more important to their hiring decisions was personal recommendations.
Are legal departments in Canada doing things that much differently than their counterparts in the United States?
Not according to research on the hiring habits of U.S.-based general counsel. Various surveys and other research over the past three to five years indicate that more than 90 percent of general counsel believe that law firm websites play a key role in influencing purchasing decisions for legal services, and that lawyer bios are the single most important section of a firm’s site.
In fact, lawyer bio pages generate between half and three-quarters of all the traffic on firm websites.
In addition to using bios to research potential new hires, in-house counsel report that they regularly review the bios of lawyers they’ve already hired and with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Other key visitors to lawyer bio pages include colleagues and others lawyers looking to make referrals (both inside and outside your own firm), industry associations, trade groups and boards of directors, the media, and judges and opposing counsel.
All of which means that Web-based attorney bios are an important tool for marketing and business development—for firms, practice groups and individual lawyers. In my experience, however, many attorney bios tend to be wrongly focused, poorly written and often neglected. In short, many bios fall far short of being the powerful marketing and business development tool that they could be.
Here are some tips for crafting better and more effective attorney bios.
• Get down to basics. The central question that clients want answered is: Can this firm—and its lawyers—handle the specific problem that I have? Yet the No. 1 complaint of in-house counsel is that most website bios make it difficult to quickly and easily identify people with specific knowledge and experience or to connect practice areas back to the lawyers.
At the very least, Web bios should have an overview or narrative page or section that communicates specifically what the attorney does—not only what “type” of law, but the specific work she does—what kinds of litigation, what types of transactions, what legal problems she helps solve, what business challenges she helps address. The narrative should also include the specific clients (or types of clients) the lawyer represents, and any specific industries or market sectors in which she has particular experience.
An effective bio also includes detailed examples of work that the lawyer has done that illustrate her ability to help other clients address their particular challenges and solve their problems. A separate list of representative matters, with concise and specific descriptions of the representations, also helps clients identify whether the lawyer (and the firm) has handled the same kinds of matters that they face—without reading through paragraphs of text.
•Enough about you. Yes, they’re called attorney bios. But clients don’t read them to find out about you, they read them to find out what you can do for them. Bios should be client-focused, communicating that the attorney understands her clients’ businesses and industries, and knows how to help them solve their legal and business problems. Credentials (law schools, undergrad degrees, bar and court admissions, and clerkships), awards, and professional and community affiliations should be included—clients do look for and value those in their hiring decisions—but they should not be the focus of the bio.
• What’s your brand? Attorney bios are marketing tools not only for the individual lawyer, but also for his practice group and for the firm as a whole. Every bio on a firm’s website should promote and support the firm’s brand through the use of consistent messaging, as well as language, voice, tone and style. Simple decisions—whether to call attorneys Mr. and Ms. or use first names, how positions and titles are used, even fonts, capitalization and whether (or not) to use serial commas and colons—all contribute to the overall look and feel of the website, and support and promote the firm’s brand. Consistency is essential—anything less not only looks sloppy, it can undermine the firm’s brand.
• The best version of you. A bio is a living document—it should grow and change throughout a lawyer’s career in order to be an effective marketing tool at every stage from newly admitted associate to senior partner. It should reflect both the attorney’s current practice and past experience. But bios are often neglected—either remaining the same year after year or updated sporadically to add more information without any thought as to overall content or marketing strategy, which often results in a long and unwieldy bio stuffed with an odd combination of old and new information. As a best practice, bios should be updated regularly, to add fresh information, and pruned rigorously, to keep them on point with marketing and business development strategies and goals.
• Mind the rules. Law firm websites and lawyer bios are attorney advertising. Every state has ethics rules that govern advertising and which dictate what can and can’t be represented in bios. Firms with multiple offices and national (or international) practices need to be mindful of the ethics rules in every jurisdiction in which their lawyers practice.
• Lawyers are people too. Lawyers are more than the sum of their credentials and representative matter lists. While consistency in messaging and style are important, and ethics rules must be followed, attorney bios need not be cookie-cutter or boring. While the amount of personal information included in bios should be a firmwide decision, pro bono commitments or community work, professional and civic affiliations, and memberships on boards and in organizations can round out an attorney’s bio with relevant information that complements her professional experience and capabilities.
Meg Charendoff, the principal of CREATE: Communications-Media-Marketing, is a lawyer, writer, editor and marketing professional who works with law firms to develop compelling content, including attorney bios. She can be reached at email@example.com or 215-514-3206.  •