Originally published in The National Law Journal on October 21, 2013
Lawyer bios tend to share some problems. They lack focus, they are boring and they often contain too much superfluous information. Probably the worst thing is this: They bury the lead.
Here are a few examples of great “leads” that need to be front and center in a bio. “Mr. Smith recently closed the largest lease agreement in the history of the state.” “Mrs. Doe manages one of the largest patent portfolios in the region.” Or how about another one I saw recently: “Over 15 injunctions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.”
Notice that none of these claims is puffed up — they simply represent facts that make strong points. Similarly, you need to position your own achievements front and center on your bio.
Remember what you learned in high school yearbook class: When writing an article, you need to get to the point immediately. The “lead” is the juiciest bit. An article about the events of September 11, 2001, shouldn’t discuss the weather and the stock prices that day before casually mentioning that thousands were killed when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.
Lawyer bios make a similar mistake when they follow this seemingly dull boilerplate formula:
No. 1: Where do you work, what do you practice and were you on law review.
No. 2: List every single type of work you have ever participated in, from mergers and acquisitions to immigration to land-use law to alternative dispute resolution.
No. 3: After three paragraphs hint at actual major work you have done.
No. 4: In the final line, mention something really interesting you do in your free time.
Why do lawyers do that? I’ve asked a few attorneys and this is an answer I received: “When I first started practicing, I copied someone else’s bio format and have just added information over the years.”
You can do better than that. This isn’t a boilerplate nondisclosure agreement whose text you can copy from your previous assignments, changing the names of the parties. This is your chance to really stand out.
This isn’t the responsibility of your marketing department, either — this is your online résumé and nobody should care about it more than you do. Besides, nobody knows what the “lead” should be in your résumé better than you.
Lawyers are by nature overachievers. From documents filed with the court to transactions, we want everything to be as close to perfect and free from error as possible. It’s time you started putting that same attention to detail into the one document that might actually determine whether you get hired or not — your law firm bio.