Nov 22, 2010

The Biology of Lawyer Bios

In the beginning, lawyers never had bio's - or so I suspect.  Back then, there simply wasn't a need. A lawyer would hang a shingle in the center of town, and get to know folks at houses of worship or stores or community activities. Lawyers' reputations preceded them, and clients never inquired about credentials.

But eventually the practice of law evolved. In 1868, the first lawyer directory, Martindale-Hubbell was born, and with it, the perception of a lawyer bio as serious, dignified and a little bit pompous.

That notion of the lawyer bio survived for nearly a century and a half. And while the traditional lawyer bio may have been appropriate for a post-Civil War businessman looking for a lawyer, it hasn't held up well in an Internet Age where potential clients are better informed and want more information about the their lawyers. Yet today's credential-laden bios don't tell clients what they really want to know, like whether a lawyer will return phone calls or what other clients think of the lawyer's work or whether the lawyer has even an ounce of personality.

Just as in Darwin's Origina of the Species, lawyers who cling to pallid, outdated bios will undoubtedly be rendered extinct. So to avoid this fate, lawyers need not only to adapt their bios, but like Darwin's finches, morph them into different variations appropriate for their target clients.

So, lawyers who practice family law, a field where trust is especially important, should forget about generic bios, and share some personal information to encourage clients to open up, suggests Lee Rosen. Pictures are also a way to personalize a blog, as are videos and lawyers who share their passion, advises Adrian Dayton. Lawyers might also include in their bios their philosophy of law practice, which is one of the features of the Nolo Directory bios and can help clients evaluate compatibility. Here's one example.  [Disclosure: My blog, MyShingle.com receives compensation from Nolo for advertising and content that I provide at this site]

Lawyer bios for corporate clients may have a different set of demands, observes Bob Ambrogi. To stand out from competitors, even bios aimed at more institutional clients must tell a compelling story.  But Bob suggests that they should also include credentials such as where the lawyer went to school, ratings and past matters since corporate clients often care about this kind of information.  Corporate blogs also raise the matter of bio-mutation, i.e., the result when lawyers inject too much personality into a professional profile (in colloquial parlance, it's called TMI) At Great Jakes blog, Dion Algeri cites two specimens that possess what in his view is TMI:  the lawyer bios at  Axiom (basically, a high-end contract lawyer placement group) and Chicago-based Edelston McGuire.  Algeri questions whether these bios would work for all clients, since they focus too heavily on the personal while neglecting the professional  (I didn't find this to be true of the EdelstonMcGuire site, because even though it shared quirky bits like how much coffee each lawyer likes to drink, it did also list some fairly impressive representative matters for the firm's principals).

The emergence of social media is pushing the evolution of bios even further, producing even more new species.  Now,  lawyers must develop a number of different bios - somewhat more formal bios for websites, more casual bios for Facebook and short, pithy variants for Twitter. As Jordan Furlong writes at Stem Legal, Twitter only allows 140 characters for a bio, and needs to be interesting enough to convince another user to follow. Jordan offers some examples of great Twitter bios, while Freelance Folder provides tips on writing a bio that will attract targeted followers.

So where's the bio headed? One possibility is the variant being developed by AboutMe, a one pager comprised of a user's photo which dominates the page, along with a Twitter-like description and links to other online presences. The site is still in beta, but here's an example of a bio created by California lawyer Brian Pedigo. All you need to know, all in one place, this universal bio may just be the perfect species in today's mobile, global world.

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