Self-Marketing for Lawyers: Bios Mean Business
Effective bios drive business. Shift from “just the facts” to “get the business.” The accompanying presentation can be found here
By Heather Suttie, The Law Office Management Association (TLOMA) Newsletter, December 2007
Helping lawyers market themselves is an on-going process and bios are marketing tools that help drive business. As many of us can attest, the business of bio writing can be either a cookie-cutter exercise or a merciless experience of ever-evolving track-changes. Neither needs to be the case.
While every lawyer needs a bio – and if you’re reading this it’s highly likely you’ve helped write one – it’s worthwhile to stop and consider why we’re doing this in the first place. Just what is a bio supposed to do? How can it help convince a client that, “this is the lawyer for me?” And, how can this be done in a way that serves the lawyer and, even more importantly, the client?
THE SAMENESS FACTOR
The problem with many bios is sameness, which is perpetuated by two factors. The first is modeling bios on those of other lawyers who have modeled their bios of those of other lawyers…and so on, and so on. The second factor is a tendency to take an approach that “it’s about me, the lawyer” rather than “it’s about them, the client.” This sameness problem can carry such symptoms as verbose stories told in legalese, jumbled laundry lists of various experiences, and a self-congratulatory tone.
Given all this, is it any wonder that clients looking for legal talent can have a tough time differentiating one lawyer from another?
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
As the Cheshire Cat said in Alice in Wonderland, ”If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Knowing where you’re going means keeping the end result in mind. In this case, the end result is to clearly convey the message clients want to hear – “I understand your needs and concerns, and can help you achieve your goals.”
In conveying this message, you’ll want to spark a client’s curiosity, persuade a client to think, “this is the lawyer for me,” and trigger action in the form of contacting a particular practitioner.
This is where you must dare to be different. Being different within a profession schooled to be risk-averse can be a challenge; however, focusing on three simple elements can make all the difference:
1. Focus on what a client needs to know.
2. Apply a succinct and streamlined approach.
3. Use plain-speaking text with a lean, clean layout.
By considering the tips below, your lawyers will stand out from the crowd, and their bios will shift from “just the facts” to “get the business.”
1. Focus on What a Client Needs to Know
- Direct Phone Number
- Email Address
- Executive Summary
While the above elements are expected, the executive summary is a differentiator. And it is just that – a paragraph, hopefully no longer than seven lines of text that hones in on the lawyer’s practice(s) and highlights industry expertise.
- Client work supporting practice(s) and industry expertise
- Bar and association memberships (memberships relevant to prospective client work)
- Legal rankings and recognition
- Publications and speaking engagements (relevant and recent)
Part of the sameness problem is the tendency to give precedence to bar admission and education information. While it may be a source of pride for a lawyer, this is not usually relevant to most clients. Clients say they look for two key criteria when hiring legal talent: capability of handing the work and proven expertise in the client’s industry sector. It’s a given that a lawyer went to school, studied law, graduated, and is licensed to practice.
2. Apply a Succinct and Streamlined Approach
Choose relevant information that helps clients quickly sense that the lawyer is an expert on current business trends, and legal needs and regulations within particular practice areas and industry sectors.
- Use this information for the executive summary paragraph
- Keep sentences short (18 words or less) and avoid serial commas
- Bullet points help to present straightforward details
Make client work examples as specific as possible. For example, which sounds more enticing:
“September 2007: Assisted a Fortune 500 company in the construction industry on a $6 million contract dispute, saving $4 million in litigation through alternative dispute resolution”
“Has experience in commercial litigation and ADR.”
Evidence of accomplishments, such as identifying clients either by name or industry sector, along with dates and dollars, demonstrates that the lawyer knows business and the value of what they provide. Also, avoid acronyms (and alliteration) always. Not every client will know what an acronym represents so it’s best to be clear and spell it out.
Keep information current by reviewing bios every six months to add new content while eliminating dated material (anything more than five years old). For example, any mention of that non-event called Y2K is ancient history and is also indicative of not keeping pace with today’s business environment.
3. Use Plain-Speaking Text With a Lean, Clean Layout
Prospective clients are busy people with limited time. They tend to scan, not read. To help them find the information they need, take a first-things-first approach:
- Essential elements listed at the top of the page
- Executive summary paragraph appears beneath essential elements
- Secondary elements and feature material can appear in a sidebar
It’s wise to ensure ample white space. This enables readers to more easily identify key words as they scan. Make sure there is high-contrast between text colour and the background (this is especially important for online bios), and offer a print-friendly PDF version.
Websites are open for business 24 hours a day, making it easier and more convenient for prospective clients to find a particular practitioner. Including key words in bios that clients might use in a search engine will help them find your lawyers and boost your firm’s search rankings.
Consider including practice and industry terms along with landmark case names. Include words, terms and variants that a client might use. Keywords must be relevant to the text. A word of caution – avoid excessive keyword insertion. Search engines can recognize this tactic and may reject the page.
From a technical perspective, it’s smart to include the lawyer’s name on the page title of their bio. The page title is the text area at the very top of the page frame, above the website address.
This area can include the practitioner’s name along with relevant key words with a usual allowance of 96 characters. This seldom-used yet vital type of search engine optimization tactic is especially helpful in being well ranked, as it is more likely that this page will appear when any of the page title key words are entered into a search engine. For the technology-challenged, this is something that can be done by website programmers or perhaps your IT staff.
In closing, while bio preparation will always be part-and-parcel of legal marketing, it need not be an arduous task. Best of all, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be better able to help your firm’s lawyers drive business – and position yourself as an even more valuable resource.
Heather Suttie is a legal marketing and business development consultant. She works with a range of law firms and legal service providers — Global to Solo, BigLaw to NewLaw. Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or www.heathersuttie.ca.