Underneath all the performance metrics, alternative fee arrangements and efficiency mandates, law is still principally a relationship-based business. When general counsel look to hire new outside counsel, it’s a given that they want someone who has the precise expertise that they need. But just as important, they want someone they can know, trust and, yes, even like.
The first place an in-house counsel is likely to go to learn more about a lawyer—someone who has been referred by a trusted contact, made a great impression at a recent conference or otherwise introduced—is to view that lawyer’s law firm bio page.
Don’t underestimate the value of a good bio. In fact, a 2012 report by law firm web design company Great Jakes revealed that 56 percent of visits to law firm websites are to attorney bio pages—with only 30 percent going to the home or contact us pages. The bio is most often the point of entry, and the principal vector to the rest of any law firm’s website.
First and foremost, in-house counsel want to know the lawyer. Unfortunately, most attorneys bios don’t effectively reflect their accomplishments and core competencies. From AmLaw 100 firms to the smallest boutique shops, most lawyer bios are out of date, too wordy, stale, passive in voice and, especially, exasperatingly exhaustive in detail.
For most lawyers, the default position seems to be including every possible award and recognition they have ever received, every matter they have ever handled, who they clerked for, where they apprenticed and, if possible, what they had for breakfast. Lawyers often believe that casting a wide net offers the best prospects for business development, but trying to be all things to all people usually works against them for the simple reason that it’s not what their clients want.
“I have actually disqualified a firm based on bios,” Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors, said last year on a panel at the LMA Tech Conference. “I went and looked at their bio, and this particular work was one of about 95 things [that they did] listed with serial commas.”
So what makes a great attorney bio? Here are a few rules of thumb:
1. Keep it concise. Bios should consist of a 200- to 300-word narrative section written in an active voice. In-house counsel are extremely busy. They don’t have time to read through an attorney’s life story, nor can they endure an endless list of accomplishments. As soon as they see an excessively lengthy bio, their eyes glaze and they leave the page.
2. Highlight the most important and relevant information. In-house counsel don’t care as much about where a lawyer went to law school as they do about the recent high-profile settlement she just negotiated. Offer up case studies and victories won for clients to illustrate capabilities and successes.
3. Include—in a prominent place—client testimonials and peer reviews. What clients and fellow attorneys say about a lawyer’s work carries weight with in-house counsel. But most importantly, it builds trust.
4. On the technical side, bios should be rich in keywords. Include the phrases that target prospects enter into search engines when researching attorneys. But be mindful: Search engines are smarter than ever and recognize attempts to cram bios with keywords. Keywords must be part of active, substantive sentences. Laundry lists are pushed down in search results.
5. Get a little personal. Beyond including a profile picture, which is a must, let some personal details show through. Including, for example, pro bono work and affiliations with outside organizations or associations paints a picture for the in-house counsel of how your personality helps shape your practice of law.
In many cases, the attorney bio represents the in-house counsel’s pivotal impression of a lawyer. Providing clear and concise snapshots of a lawyers’ work, expertise and personality gives in-house counsel the perspective they need to feel informed when they decide to pick up the phone.