Building the Better Biography Online (For Lawyers)

Lawyers’ online biographies – they really do make a difference.

The 2013 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey includes a wealth of valuable information on the current state of the legal profession’s online activities and attitudes. Among its key findings is the vital importance of lawyers’ online biographies  in the hiring decisions of corporate in-house counsel. While personal referrals were still viewed as the most important component in corporate counsel’s hiring research, lawyers’ website biographies were the next-most important criteria, with 91% of survey respondents viewing online biographies as either very important or somewhat important in their outside hiring decisions.

I have no doubt the same pattern would emerge in any survey of the general public. People really do read these biographies and they weigh heavily in the public’s choices of the professionals they retain.

With this in mind, is it perhaps time for your online biography to be reviewed, updated and refreshed?

Much has been written about lawyer bios. In The Art and Science of Lawyer Bios, lawyer and consultant Bob Ambrogi identifies the core structure of a strong lawyer biography as follows:

A professional biography should be structured no differently than any other piece of good writing:

  • It should have a theme.
  • It should use facts to back up that theme.
  • It should be written in a compelling style that draws in and holds the reader.
  • All of this should be done in no more than six paragraphs.

In the case of a lawyer’s biography, the theme should emphasize what makes that lawyer distinct — what makes that lawyer stand out from the competition.

A dissenting voice, Matt Homann, points out “Your Clients Don’t Care Where You Went to Law School,” and reminds us to keep our readers needs, sensibilities and actual requirements in mind when drafting our online self-descriptions.

Both points are well taken.  My own thoughts on lawyers’ online biographies are as follows:

  • Your bio can make the difference – prospective clients will read what you’ve said and evaluate you based on what they see.  If it isn’t there, they won’t know about it.
  • Include the basics – undergrad and legal education, year of call, other credentials and your general career background.
  • Do define your areas of practice clearly and completely – this is how you inform people about the kinds of work you.  Have you added Estates Litigation or Entertainment Law as areas of practice recently?  Is your bio updated to reflect this?
  •  Summarize your professional accomplishments, memberships and publications, including online publications. They give readers context on who you are and where you have your greatest expertise.
  • I’m a bit of an agnostic on whether you should reference your favourite recreational activities or family life in your online bio. These points can humanize your biography, and that’s a good thing, but keep it short and subtle.  If you believe your likely clients of the future will think these references are important, feel free, but don’t overdo it.  
  • If you are a newer lawyer, don’t oversell or embellish.  Rather, build your credentials and then reference them.  It needn’t take long.  Write a few well-researched blog articles on your area of practice and refer to them in your bio. Join a CBA committee or your local lawyer’s association and participate in events or panels.  Do volunteer work on a local Board for a worthy cause.  All such engagement can be used to build depth in your bio.
  • Above all, keep it current – take the time to update your biography regularly.  It may no longer be singularly impressive to the reader that you delivered a great speech or leading paper in 1991, particularly if there is no hint of any follow-up or subsequent accomplishment over the intervening years.  They will want to know what you have been doing lately, so include this information.

Today’s Slaw Tip:  It’s time to build your better bio online.

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

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