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12 Jun 2019

The Reality Check That Your Attorney Bio Needs

The following is a two-step exercise that can help any attorney improve his or her professional bio. It’s as effective as it is simple. First, the attorney should find a quiet place and draft a bio designed to impress themselves, making sure to include all the details of their education and practice of which they are most proud. Then comes the most important step: throwing that bio in the trash.

Admittedly, that second step may not be an intuitive one. An attorney bio is far and away the most important marketing document that most attorneys possess. It’s also the first web page to be visited by prospective clients thinking about hiring them. Why, then, would you throw out that bio?

Because it was written to impress the attorney, not a potential client. Those are two different groups of people, and they are impressed by different things. Attorneys may be reluctant to accept this. Having worked so hard and so long for their achievements—earning that book award in Civil Procedure, being named vice president of that bar association subcommittee, or publishing that law review article 19 years ago—they feel an urgent need to include them in their bio. It’s an understandable instinct, but a misplaced one. The reality check they need is this: prospective clients don’t care about those things, or a lot of other information that attorneys feel a compulsion to include in their bios.

Instead, what prospective clients want from a bio is very simple. Here’s what they want to get out of it:

How the attorney can help them: Because most attorneys write their bios to impress themselves (and maybe other attorneys), they speak in terms of all the wonderful things they do. It is far more effective, however, to speak in terms of the problems they can solve for clients.

  • Written from the attorney’s perspective, a bio might read: “Jane Smith litigates insurance disputes in state and federal court as well as arbitrations, with a focus on property damage claims.”
  • From the client’s perspective, it reads very differently: “Jane Smith helps policyholders recover insurance protection when storms and other disasters strike their property.”

Write from the client’s perspective.

Readable prose: When attorneys write their bios, they often focus exclusively on the information that they are including. That is, of course, an important consideration. But no one ever gets to that information if the bio isn’t readable. That means:

  • Keeping the prose lively and accessible: Use active verbs, vary sentence length, and don’t try to impress anyone
    with your big vocabulary. Also, get rid of the legalese and formal tone; instead, go with a “business casual” style.
    Readers will find it far more appealing.
  • Keeping it short: When you write a long bio, you’re putting a big burden on the reader. Take it off. Keep it under 500 words.
  • Avoiding laundry lists: No one reads these, and yet they find their way into a great many attorney bios. If you
    have a list of more than three items, find another way to say it.

Their contact info: If the reader likes what they see, the next step is to get in touch with you. Make it easy for them. Prominently include your email address and telephone number, along with links to other relevant places for visitors to find you: LinkedIn®, Twitter®, a blog, whatever it may be. It’s tempting to think of bios as daunting projects, but they aren’t rocket science.

The broad strokes of the attorney’s practice: Attorneys resort to laundry lists because they have been trained to cover every possible base. That might serve them well when drafting contracts (although those could probably benefit from some plain English too), but not when telling readers what they do. Listing twenty different areas that an attorney has touched over their entire career doesn’t do anyone any good. Instead, tell readers what your bread and butter is. That’s what they want to know, and it will give you an identity with the reader.

The attorney’s impressive results: Once you’ve identified your bread and butter, tell the reader about two to four good results you’ve had in that line of work. Keep it short, and make them into bullets for easier reading.

Some sense of the attorney as a person: There’s a human on the other side of this bio, and they want to know that you’re one too. A little goes a long way here, but if you can find an opening to give a glimpse of the personality behind the lawyer— the charities that you care about, the hobby you pursue, the travels you’ve had—it can really bring a bio to life.

Notice that nowhere in here did we mention that book award, that subcommittee position, or that law review article. Yes, it can be painful to leave them out. But that’s why you wrote the first bio. It was for yourself. You got it out of your system, so that you could write a much better one.

That’s the real two-step process to creating a great bio.

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