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How to Write Attorney Bios that Work

There’s been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere lately about the importance of attorney web bios, so my team and I figured that maybe a blog post from people who actually write attorney bios might be in order.  🙂

We don’t have a cottage industry of attorney bios going on over here, but we produce between 5 and 25 bios a month and about half that many practice group descriptions.  We shy away from producing bios for mega firms, so we’re writing for 4 or more firms a year, and each of those firms has their own style and content preferences.

Great Jakes’ research indicates that some 56% of law firm website traffic is to attorney bios. Our monitoring of client stats shows it to be less than that, but it’s still twice the traffic to any other page, including the home page of a firm’s website. Any way you cut it, bios are a law firm’s online living room.

So what should a bio be?  In a word: robust. We start bio writing by confirming that the web design will provide a well-rounded picture of the attorney, showcasing their matters, articles, speeches, civic and industry accomplishments, etc. But the text portion of the bio is still the holy grail that conveys the soul of lawyer: Who is this professional and why do I care to know him or her?

In terms of identifying text style, we send the client three to four different styles, varying from dead ahead and dry to an option centered on direct quotes and focused on the passion and legal interests of the attorney. (I’m not of the school that believes adding a sentence with number of kids, sport of choice and type of pet makes a bio “personal”.)

Weirdly to me, many firms choose dry and dead ahead. They are intimidated or put off by a bio that conveys too much passion, personality or verve. But, happily, not all feel that way, and so we conduct phone interviews, pull quotes and try to recreate, on paper, the person we have met.

Done well, this can be startling.  I was asked to interview a potential lateral from a DC area firm several weeks ago and so I looked up his current bio.  I had almost never come upon a random attorney bio that conveyed such a vivid sense of who the person was. Someday I want to find out who wrote that bio and shake their hand (or hire them).

If bios are so important and that fact is universally acknowledged by every blogger with a soapbox, then why are bios so rarely done well?  I think there are two reasons.

First, doing this well does not jibe with doing this quickly and cheaply. We stick with small or mid-sized firms for these projects because even though the total dollar number can be a mouthful, it is still a fathomable investment. Translate that into a 600-attorney firm, and the law firm is instantly thinking “volume discount”. We, meanwhile, are thinking “writer fatigue.” This is not one of those commodities that gets cheaper (or better) by the gross. Every unit still has to be produced with the same talent, creativity, sensitivity and thought.

The second reason has its origins deep in the attorney psyche. After many years of business development training and coaching, attorneys are still slow to accept and internalize the real way that clients make hiring decisions. Attorneys are stuck on the idea that clients make decisions like credential-computation machines — he with the most qualifications wins! Sorry. The person that the client (1) Knows, (2) Likes and (3) Trusts, in that order, gets the job. So why wouldn’t the purpose of a bio be to make one known, likable and trustworthy? Why not forgo the boring litany of credentials and relegate them to the sidebar? After all, if someone is reading the bio, they probably think you are smart enough (which is all that is necessary). Now let’s let them know why they should want to work with you.

I am a fan of the Great Jakes attorney microsites, which allow for robust attorney information, but I remain an old-fashioned girl who thinks that the power of the pen still prevails and your bio is your way of recreating your value proposition for the world to see. A well-reasoned, engaging prose bio is still your best marketing tool on today’s all-important Internet.