“Who are you? Lawyer Bios 101” Or “What have you done lately and what can you do for me now?”

Marni MacLeod

Over the last few months there have been a number of blog posts written by seasoned legal marketers on the content of law firm website lawyer bios. It is clear that by far the most visited pages on a law firm website (alongside the Home and Contact pages) are the Bio pages of individual lawyers. This makes sense if you think about it from a client perspective. People comparison shop for lawyers just like any other service and one of the tools they use to do that is the internet…where they will undoubtedly look at your bio because they want to see what the options are. Similarly, if a client has found your firm but there is more than one lawyer practicing in the area that the client is interested in, then of course they are going to check out individual bios to determine who can best tackle the specific issue they are facing. Wouldn’t you? Even if a client has been referred to you, they are likely to check you out online before making an appointment as part of their preparation for a meeting.

Are You Boring? Maybe…but not likely.
If you are relying on what amounts to a recitation of the most basic facts about yourself – where you went to school, that you practice “X, Y, or Z law” and maybe that you wrote an article for Lawyers Weekly 5 years ago – you may want to rethink that strategy. Take a step back and consider why a potential client is bothering to read your bio. They are reading it not because they care where you went to law school. They are interested because they have a problem or legal issue that they cannot handle on their own. They are looking at your bio to see whether you have the experience necessary to help them. So, what does your bio say? Does it provide specific information about how you help clients in a particular situation deal with a defined problem or set of circumstances? If not, maybe it should. Is your bio engaging? Does it make strangers want to meet you and learn more? No? Why not? Are you that boring? I suppose it’s possible, but I highly doubt it.

Why Bother Spending Time on a Bio?
A key underlying objective of all marketing strategies is to differentiate yourself from your competitors in some way (hopefully a positive way). That’s why you will hear marketers talk endlessly about your unique differentiators. In regard to legal training, articling and years of experience, comparing peers produces pretty much standard (read generic) descriptors: experienced, knowledgeable, client-focused. This tells a client nothing of any real value that contributes to a purchase decision because everyone says the same thing. Clients want to know why they should hire you and not the lawyer across the street. Like anyone preparing to part with large sums of money, they want to be sure that they are hiring someone who is not only competent but who is also approachable and can communicate easily – both with regard to understanding the issue at hand and in terms of explaining options and strategy in plain language.

Further, the Holy Grail in marketing is still face time with a prospective client. There is no better way to demonstrate your knowledge, skill and powers of persuasion than a face-to-face meeting. Why wouldn’t you do everything possible to make that meeting happen? The content of your website bio, including a decent (aka professional) bio photo, operates as virtual face time.

Be Yourself Online and Off
I meet a lot of lawyers who are wonderfully charismatic and clearly telegraph both their expertise and creativity in person. Not so much on the average website. Some of this is due to priorities. I understand that legal “work” takes precedence. However, in my respectful opinion, part of your legal work should include communicating clearly with your clients about who you are and what you can do for them. The basis of any good lawyer-client relationship is two-way communication. People who find you approachable and can relate to you (whether it’s because of a legal skill or some shared community value) are more likely to trust you and consequently will be more forthcoming with information about what they need and how they think you can help them. This in turn, helps you gauge what other information about you and your practice may be of value to the decision-making process. The best analogy I can think of is judges asking questions of counsel in court. Those questions were always like gold in my view because they told you very clearly where the judge was with you and where he or she might need more persuading. Your website bio can be the impetus for those types of questions at your initial meeting. It gives you additional insight into your client. Again…ask yourself why wouldn’t you want that.

Your clients are going to be spending their money on your services, in some cases quite a lot of money. Don’t you think they want to gather as much information about you as they possibly can before they make the decision to part with their cold hard cash? Your clients are not stupid people (or at least I hope not). They make buying decisions the same way you do; so take a moment and think about how you hire people to guide you in circumstances where you are not the trained professional.

Here are some helpful hints from the Skunkworks list of Bio basics:

  • Include a professionally done photo of yourself. One that actually looks like you…not your law school graduating class photo or one that is clearly out of date. At some point – if your marketing works – you are going to actually meet this new client face-to-face. They will have expectations based on how you have presented yourself online. If there is a disconnect, you run the risk of creating uncertainty about whether they can trust you to be as skilled as you claimed you were online. It’s all about the credibility…you all know how important that is already.
  • Be specific about what you do on a regular basis for the client group you want to attract. Bread and butter issues aside, there is also little point in marketing for work you really hate doing.
  • While you are writing your bio stop and think “So What?” every once in a while. Ask yourself, “Why does this skill or that experience matter to someone who might be thinking of hiring me?” Then answer the question…in your bio.
  • Include descriptive information about the kind of work that you regularly do. Obviously you cannot name names unless you’ve got client permission to do so. However, you can describe the legal nature of a case or a transaction and you can explain what you did to help a client or what strategic advantages you were able to offer. I feel compelled to address those lawyers who are fearful they are giving away too much when they talk about how they handle legal issues. Yes you are going to get tire kickers…sorry that’s life. However, the good clients are those who want to educate themselves about what they face and then realize it makes far more sense to hire someone who knows what they are doing then to try to tackle it themselves. You WANT people who are interested enough to find out more about the legal nature of their cases because they hold the keys to the information you need to successfully help them resolve the matter. If they aren’t educated (by you) they may not realize they have facts, evidence or ideas to offer that can actually make your job easier. Sorry…pet peeve. Trust me, providing even reasonably detailed information on your website is not going to encourage people to dawn “robes” and try to deal with the situation themselves. The flip side of that is the old adage “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” but guess what? They’ve already got a whole whack of ideas from Cousin Barney so you are no further ahead if you hold back.
  • If you get a glowing client testimonial that complies with the Legal Marketing rules…think about whether it would be appropriate to use it on your bio. I have to admit I have mixed feelings about testimonials because they so often sound inauthentic and that bugs me. But, I am also legally trained and I have the advantage of relying on my own background to assess someone’s merits. Most people don’t have that option so they look to others who can tell them about your track record. I have seen some testimonials work quite well particularly in retail law areas (PI, family, criminal) where you are often dealing with people who unexpectedly find themselves in need of a lawyer and are not looking to establish an on-going full service relationship with your firm (that may come later of course).
  • If you have attended seminars or provided information to client groups, then (where appropriate and where you have permission) provide your speaking notes or your PowerPoint (or Prezi). Invite people to contact you about lunch and learns or speaking engagements. Give them opportunities to meet you.
  • If you’ve got other online properties (a LinkedIn page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog) include links to these platforms on your Bio page.
  • Think about what your clients want from you and then think about how best to communicate that you can meet these needs. Be specific and answer the “So what?”
  • New lawyer just starting out? Talk about why you went into law and talk about your life pre-law…do you have expertise or additional skills you bring to the table. Reach out to your generation…I guarantee you that connection is an advantage a 30 year call does not have…worried about getting called on a lack of experience if you do? Well, if you are working in a firm environment it’s perfectly acceptable to tell clients that you have access to a team of experienced counsel (provided of course it’s true). A couple other advantages you have: 1) you are cheaper (cost does matter) and 2) you are also likely to be aware of new developments in the law which can provide a strategic advantage. Why do you think big firms LOVE articling students (well it’s one reason anyway). These are things clients may not have considered…your bio can help them do that.

Good lawyer bios are didactic. They tell clients what you’ve done for people lately and they tell clients how you can help them achieve their specific goals now. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. They are reading your bio with a view to whether you can help them with a specific issue. Your bio is an opportunity to make a first impression and set the tone of your relationship with a prospective client. How do you want to come across?

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to let people know who you are and what you can do for them in the context of a specific problem or situation. People looking for a lawyer actually want the answers to those questions.

 

 

 

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