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If you're an attorney whose firm has a marketing person or business-savvy IT person, you've likely been informed, or perhaps you just knew by common sense, that the most important page on your law firm's website is the attorney biography page. An attorney biography page is responsible for over 60% of your website's total traffic, which is a huge proportion! Even if you pay attention to no other page on your website, you should take a closer look at this one, where your life's work is presented to the world in a (hopefully) nicely written and well-designed format. The hope is, of course, that when that one visitor out of perhaps a hundred who has the potential become your next client takes a look at it, he or she is suitably impressed for new business to fall into your lap.
While it's of paramount importance for a biography to be well-written with a consistent message and a professional tone, the layout of the page and even some of its bells and whistles do indeed have an effect on its overall effectiveness and user-friendliness. After much thought and with 17 years of experience advising and helping law firms write and format their biography pages, we came up with a list of ten things your firm can do to improve their existing biography pages. This is not an all-encompassing list (for that, you'll have to speak with us!). You may already be doing some of them, but others might surprise you.
The problem with a long-winded attorney website bio is that most people would rather drive a stake through their eye before reading the entire thing. While a good layout (mentioned below) will often alleviate this suffering, let's assume that a potential client reading your biography is a busy person who doesn't read at a genius level and is used to an executive summary of everything, from dinner menus to meeting agendas. Who are you to deny him his desire to summarize? Keep it short up on top, and after the overview (below the fold, as they say) provide more details to inform (and possibly amuse) those with more time on their hands.
Some people have the wonderful gift to adjust the way they describe their work depending on who the audience is; people who don't have this ability will sometimes bore anyone to tears who is not in their field. No one wants to be spoken down to, and we are not suggesting the dumbing-down of your life's work, minimizing your expertise and work accomplishments. But do keep in mind that while many lawyers will be reading your biography, most of your viewers of your firm website will be people who may understand minimal lawyer lingo, and would benefit from a more casual business-like description of your capabilities. Think of the attorneys you've seen interviewed on cable television; the best ones tend to be quite good at explaining legal jargon in stimulating, common terminology without sounding condescending.
When you get right down to it, your next client is hiring a person, not buying equipment or renting a building. Therefore, adding something to your bio that will humanize your photo and legal qualifications helps a lot more than most people care to admit. While no one needs to know your grooming habits or your spouse's favorite restaurant, perhaps include a tidbit on the sports you love to watch or play, an unusual collection you have (toy cars, old books, etc.), or in lieu of that, a charity you strongly believe in (in this case, why not say WHY you believe in it?)
Your experience, your achievements, your published articles and your awards: what else is more important to an attorney and therefore his/her client than these things? Don't be shy about including any and all of your experiences on your website's bio page, keeping in mind rules #1 (keep it short) and #2 (avoid lawyer jargon) above. But the most powerful "Can this attorney really help me" tool of all time is the client testimonial, something we've seen far too little of on legal website attorney bio's. Adding one or two of these (or having your law firm's web developer write a script that will randomize a longer list, but will only display one or two at a time) shows potential clients proof that you've fulfilled your promises to previous clients and left them happy with your legal services.
One critical piece of information you need to know about your bio: it's likely being read as much by robots as by humans. But this is a good thing. Those robots (run by Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc), will read your bio and determine, almost entirely from its content, its relevance and topical importance among billions of other pages that may be similar to it. So while you (or someone who works for you) pens this important cog in the Internet machine, keep a few small but important things in mind. First, don't be afraid to include (repeatedly if possible) the location you practice in, and embed this into the text as best you can without being overly redundant. Try to include town, county, and state in there as well. Second, try to incorporate words that define your practice and are likely to be searched for; to combine these two, you can find a few different ways to write "Stamford personal injury lawyer", or "New Jersey insurance law" into the bio. In proper writing techniques you will tend to avoid repetition, but in this case a little repetition is mandatory, especially when using important practice-specific or location-specific keywords.
For years, what has been hands-down the most annoying and unanimously irritating thing on the Internet? Having to fill out a web form, of course. If someone wants to contact you, make sure your website does NOT require a web form to be filled out just to send a simple email to you. There are plenty of ways of protecting your email from spammers that do not require resorting to this antiquated method of contact. V-cards should also be in an obvious spot; this allows people to, with one click, add your full contact details to their outlook, smart phone or tablet. If you insist on a website form, make it a sidebar and don't expect people to include every detail of their case; for privacy reasons you don't want them to anyway. Require minimal information: name, phone, email. A direct phone number is better than a general number, and 800 numbers are too impersonal for a law firm.
When we say smart, we don't just mean intelligent, but that's a good start. As #3 above implores, clients tend to hire attorneys for their knowledge AND their personality. Therefore, while it's important to expound upon your legal experience, you should also spend some time thinking about your image before your biography photo is taken. A good photographer will help you ahead of time with clothing and grooming, and sometimes a makeup artist will be involved (if so, then by all means use this resource!) While bags under your eyes or wrinkles can be Photoshopped out, nothing beats a well-dressed, smiling, confident, professionally taken biography photograph.
Including external website sources on your bio page is not only a way of telling search engines that you care deeply about them and their algorithms, but also that you want to provide impartial and independent information to your clients, besides that which is included on your bio. You're saying to them, "I may be terrific, but it's not all about me; take a look here at this information too." These independent links can include legal associations, government sites, and so forth. But don't forget the "It's all about me" links too, such as links to news articles, publications, Linkedin pages, even the websites of charities you're associated with. These links not only show good will, they will lift your page's importance in the eyes of those robots we mentioned in item #5.
Many attorney biographies that list an attorney's practice experience list more than one practice area, which is fine. But if your work is 10% litigation and 90% real estate transactions, don't you think that you should expend a great deal of your wordsmithing in that area? The likelihood that a potential client (or an existing client looking over your page) will be interested in anything but your main experience is slim (even if you DESIRE more litigation work), so make sure you are not overlooking that when you are writing the "meat" of your biography.
There are hundreds of professional writers out there with experience writing attorney biographies. They will interview you, usually on the phone, attain a sense of the style of writing that your law firm prefers, and submit the first draft of your website biography to you if you wish to edit it. Usually after a few run-throughs of this, you will in the end have something that you would not have been able to write on your own. Most of the time, sometime with experience in this field will look at your experience in a different light than is possible for someone to look at themselves, making the cost of hiring a writer well worth it.