The data is clear: the attorney biographies on a law firm's website are the most clicked on pages of the site (after the home page). Yet many lawyers put tons of work into their practice area pages to the exclusion of the biographies.
Intuitively, focusing on the practice areas seems to make sense at first: you're offering a service, after all, and you want to describe that service for potential clients. But that's exactly it — you're offering a service, not a mere product. Behind every service is a person. And that person makes all the difference when it comes to rapport (whether with clients, opponents, judges or juries) and, ultimately, whether the attorney-client relationship yields the best results possible.
Your practice may be referral-based or may depend on traffic from Google search results for local attorneys. Either way, a potential client hearing your name or landing on your website is just the first step. Viewing your attorney biography is likely the next step: and it may well be what costs you that client or causes them to pick up the phone.
So how do you create the best attorney profile possible? You can boil it down to:
YES you need to have a photo on your biography. NO you do not need to look like a fashion model or lose 20 pounds first. And YES, the photo needs to be professionally — or at least semi-professionally — taken. Herewith, our specific advice on attorney profile photos:
The Modern Firm is often asked whether it is critical for attorneys to share their email addresses or direct phone lines on their websites. They often cite concerns with spam emails or, in the case of v-cards, skepticism about whether their prospective clients can easily download them. Our advice is to absolutely make sure a website visitor can contact you directly from your profile. Exactly how you do that might vary.
Ok, now for the heavy stuff. Don't underestimate the importance of your biographical narrative. It gives a prospective client an initial impression of you in prose, rather than in a mere bulleted list of accomplishments, educational institutions, and bar admissions. It's essentially your first chance to speak to them while they are vetting attorneys.
Of course you hit on your background, select accomplishments, and your approach to the practice of law. But think about all these things from the perspective of what a potential client is looking for in an attorney. Some clients may be looking for sympathy, reassurance, or assertiveness. Others may be seeking evidence that you've had numerous successes in the type of matter they're facing. Corporate clients may be evaluating whether your personality will jibe well with the in-house team you'd be working with. Savvy local clients may be wondering if you've appeared before particular judges.
For consumer-focused practices — like family law, estate planning, personal injury, bankruptcy, etc. — emphasize what you can do for a client and what you're like to work with. Be personable. Assure them that, in addition to your being competent in your field, you have worked with folks just like them and they will be comfortable working with you.
For more sophisticated practices — where you are hired by organizations, particularly sophisticated parties, and even other attorneys — the emphasis is more on your background and accomplishments. But this doesn't mean your personality shouldn't come through in some fashion. For some client bases, this might even mean communicating your sense of humor and college sports preferences. For others, at a minimum you may wish to get across your philosophy or approach to law, to personalize you and set you apart from your immediate competitors.
In either case, lead with what you do for clients and reasons why you’re good at it, rather than just writing a chronological piece on your background.
Easier said than done? Here are a few examples of well-executed attorney profiles that follow the above advice, ranging from more to less touchy-feely:
Or jump straight to our attorney website bio template!
Ballpark: two to six paragraphs or sections. Here you have to balance a couple considerations.
On the one hand, your website profile is not meant to be your curriculum vitae. A website profile is meant to catch the eye, spark interest, and confirm some central features of your background and current work. C.v.s can be important — and you certainly can link to your c.v. from your web profile. But the two items serve different purposes. Your web profile should be an easily digestible reference and, thus, should not be overly long.
On the other hand, if one goal of your website is search engine optimization (SEO) to increase your firm's appearance in search engine results for local attorneys who practice in particular types of law, size matters in a different way. Search engines want a decent amount of content to sink their virtual teeth into, so you shouldn't make your narrative too short.
Bottom line: if yours is primarily a referral-based practice — and thus your website is largely a "validation" site for folks checking you out after hearing your name elsewhere — aim for two to six paragraphs of five or fewer sentences each. If you are aiming to market yourself online via organic search results, however, try for an overall length (including your bulleted lists, addressed below) of about 500 words. Keep a lengthier narrative digestible with short paragraphs and SEO-friendly, skimmable headings, like these bios for:
Generally, yes: we like those bulleted lists displaying your educational history, practice areas, professional associations, etc. We like them for several reasons:
As for what categories to include, here are some possibilities:
And a few thoughts on each:
In short, yes, we recommend including where you received your law degree, undergraduate degree, and any other relevant post-graduate degrees or certifications. Include details that would be meaningful to your particular clients. Avoid details that make your mom proud but aren't necessary for your clients, like the number of semesters you made the Dean's List in undergrad or how your moot court brief won an award 25 years ago.
Most attorneys include the years they received each degree unless they want to avoid drawing too much attention to their ages (whether because they're more vibrant than their years suggest or because they entered the field of law very recently). Either way, list the most recent degree first.
Most attorneys also include state bars to which they are admitted along with relevant federal or specialty courts. The most common exception is for locally-based consumer-oriented practitioners who are simply admitted in the single state where they practice.
For larger firms with a number of practice groups, individual attorneys nearly always list their particular areas of practice. In this case, we recommend that you use the exact title used on the website's list of practice areas and link to the relevant practice area pages. (If The Modern Firm is designing your website, ask us about the neat feature of our sites that dynamically links attorneys to their practice areas, and vice versa.)
For solos or small firms in which all lawyers practice in all the areas listed on your website, the practice areas list on your bio is optional. It's standard and fine to include, even it it is repetitive of your introductory narrative. But it's not strictly necessary, presuming that you have mentioned each area in your narrative.
It's almost always a good idea to list professional associations as well as any recent or meaningful offices you have held in them. Pro tip: you don't really have to list that you are a "Member" of each; that's implied. Another tip: if you have held multiple offices or chaired multiple events for individual organizations, consider length before you list all of them. Remember to see your biography through a prospective client's eyes — not those of your future biographers.
Fantastic if you can list honors that are meaningful to you on your biography. You may also wish to add some logos or badges to accompany them. Keep in mind your bar rules governing how you describe awards.
For practices in which lists of verdicts or settlements achieved, precedential cases, or certain types of transactions are meaningful to list — by far, do it! If it is meaningful to prospective clients, you want it on your bio even if you also have a Representative Work or Results page elsewhere on your website. Remember: your bio may be the only page some site visitors read, or they may simply print it to read later. If your list gets too long, consider linking to your full c.v. or a separate results page on the website; impressive or not, a reader's eyes will glaze over if you include more than 10 or so items.
For many practices, however, a list of representative work doesn't make sense. This is true for most divorce / family lawyers, for example, as well as for attorneys with many areas of practice who would require very long lists to fully represent their work. In the latter scenario, better to include representative work as an element of individual practice area pages.
Also great if you can list articles, books or other professional publications that you have authored (or co-authored). You may further wish to link to a pdf or outside website where the full article may be viewed. If you are a prolific writer, call your list "Selected Publications" instead of listing every last one and thus letting it burgeon out of control, lengthwise. You can link to the full list elsewhere, if need be.
As with your publications, speaking events, presentations, or teaching gigs illustrate that you are knowledgeable and respected as a resource in your field. If you have such items to list, do so along with the dates and pertinent occasions or organizations.
If you have been mentioned or interviewed in the media, it can be great to list the names and dates of publication or airing, along with links to relevant articles or videos.
Listing your service on boards for non-profits, offices in local community groups, and fundraising or volunteering with charities has many advantages. Not only does it speak to your character and abilities, but it displays connection to your community, which can have both personal and professional advantages.
Absolutely list languages in which you are fluent if these may come into play in your law practice.
This last one is a maybe. In the spirit of a website bio not being a c.v., we commonly advise against listing out your prior professional positions. Certainly, in some cases it may be appropriate. But, generally, few if any specific prior positions are particularly relevant to your clients. Where they are — such as positions with prominent firms, public offices, or clerkships with well-known judges — they can be mentioned in your narrative section.
The lists arguably never hurt. But they are optional especially for attorneys in consumer-based practices who prefer focusing their biographies on brief narratives to establish a personal connection with readers. A great example is this profile for Salt Lake City, Utah family law attorney Kara Lee Barton.
Attorneys often ask us whether they should include personal information on their website bios. Our answer is almost always yes. Limited personal facts about you — ranging from where you were raised, to which teams you root for, to the breed of your beloved dog — help the reader relate to you. (Remember: people hire people, not just skill sets!) This might mean a reader relates to your personality or interests — say to your hobbies, favorite vacation spot, or volunteer work — and thus imagines that working with you will be enjoyable and go smoothly. Or it might go deeper, suggesting to them that you have a trustworthy character or can handle their personal legal matter because you've faced a similar issue.
Obviously the tone of your personal additions should match the overall tone your law firm is setting for its practice and website. And, in rarer cases, firms setting a very sophisticated or serious tone specifically elect not to include any personal information. Finally, attorneys handling some types of cases, such as serious felonies, often reasonably wish to avoid sharing personal information in order to insulate their families and personal lives from their practices.
Personal information might appear at the outset or throughout an attorney biography, as appropriate. Most commonly, however, the attorney shares something like the following in the final paragraph of his or her narrative section:
A British immigrant, Suzy came to the United States to study law, and fell in love with the friendly, open nature of people in Michigan and the Midwest. When not practicing law, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and renovating a 19th century Victorian house with her husband, three daughters and an English Lab named Charlie.
Brian earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from Michigan State University. He grew up in West Michigan and loves calling the lakeshore his home. When Brian isn't in the office, he enjoys spending his leisure time with his wife and daughter. He is often out training for and racing triathlons, playing golf, or boating.
Although born in Idaho, Ms. Barton is a proud descendant of Utah Pioneers who were among the first to settle on the Wasatch Front. In addition to practicing law, she is a private pilot, an avid horsewoman, and a skier.
Particularly for multiple biographies within the same firm, you'll want to establish some consistent ground rules with regard to writing conventions and what, exactly, is to be included in each bio. Our advice here applies equally for solos, however!
First name vs. Ms./Mr. vs. "Attorney" — it is increasingly common for most types of practices to use an attorney's first name in a bio after initially stating his or her full name. We generally recommend using first names like this, except for firms with very formal tones. Other attorneys who might want to stick with Ms. or Mr. include younger solos and others with a need to establish gravitas instead of appearing too informal. "Attorney [Lastname]," which was previously commonly used in an attempt to increase SEO, is no longer recommended for SEO. It should be used only if this titular use of "Attorney" is common practice where your firm is located.
First- vs. third-person voice — we generally recommend that bios be written in third-person, which lends a degree of authority, makes it easier to describe accomplishments without sounding boastful, and allows for a single "voice" throughout a website. But, when done well, first-person can also be very effective in establishing a personal rapport with readers. It works particularly well in personal areas of law like divorce and family law. The first-person bio of Maple Grove, Minnesota family law attorney Susan Mundahl is a great example. Washington criminal defense attorney Justin Campbell also uses first-person well.
A nice way to gain the advantages of both first- and third-person voice is to write a bio in third-person but then include a first-person quotation from the attorney:
Indeterminate dates (when possible) — another tip is to avoid very specific dates or numbers if these will require updating too often in order to remain accurate. Don't say you have 22 years of experience, for example — say you have over 20 years of experience. Don't say you won a particularly impressive jury verdict last year — say you won it recently or state the particular year. Similarly, don't give the ages of each of your kids since, if they're anything like mine, those suckers probably have a predictable habit of changing ages constantly — rather, call them "young," or "high-school-aged," or "college-aged."
We recommend that all profiles on a single website be roughly similar in format. But they needn't be perfectly parallel. For example, within the bulleted lists, some but not all attorneys in your firm may have publications, awards, or speaking events; those without can omit these particular headings from the lists on their own bios. But you do want to ensure that all attorneys use the same list titles in the same order, if possible.
Your best bet is to come up with guidelines, like the template below, that you send to each attorney — ideally along with initial finished bios for one or two of your attorneys to serve as illustrations.
Here it is, our customizable template, in Word document form, for your attorney bio writing pleasure!
In closing, two final recommendations! First, don't go it alone: absolutely have friends or colleagues review a draft of your bio — and be sure to specifically request constructive criticism, or they'll be too nice. (In fact, go one better and have your spouse review it — spouses are often the most candid!) It is hard to get enough distance from your own bio to have a good sense of how it will read to others. In this vein, it can also be great to have someone else actually write the bio for you. You'd be surprised what a fresh set of eyes sees in your background and accomplishments!
Finally, don't forget to update your website bio! Although we advised avoiding precise numbers where they'll need to be updated all the time, this does not mean you should treat your website profile as a static piece you set and forget. Ideally, take a look at your bio at least yearly. Obviously you'll want to update stale dates and add things like new honors and publications. But also ensure that the range and focus of your practice is still accurately represented and recent accomplishments are highlighted where appropriate.