Build Better Lawyer Bios

As originally published in The National Law Journal on April 12, 2012

The book Moneyball by Michael Lewis examines the actions of a rogue general manager by the name of Billy Beane who is able to take a team with a payroll of $39 million and compete with the New York Yankees, which at the time had a payroll of around $114 million. With his ragtag group of players that he described as “from the Island of Misfit Toys,” he was able to field a team that won 20 consecutive games, more than any other team in the history of professional baseball. How was he able to have such great success? How can we apply those strategies to law firms?

Billy Beane was able to have such phenomenal success in part because Major League Baseball teams are run like an old boy’s club, and he was willing to go against the grain. Among these teams, decisions are often made on based on precedent, gut instinct or other intangibles.

When statistics are used, some are hugely overvalued, like runs batted in, while others are greatly undervalued, like on-base percentage. Beane was able to change things by ignoring precedent, exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace and focusing on the right metrics. How can law firms do the same?

One area that seems particularly perplexing is law firm marketing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on salaries for marketing staff, yet most of their time is spent on highly unproductive activities. Pitch books, Chambers submissions, holiday cards–do these really constitute the highest and best use of their costly time? Statistics would indicate otherwise.

Take the area of Web site bios, for example. According to Great Jakes, the law firm Web site company, 55 to 75 percent of the time visitors spend on law firm Web sites is spent on bios. In the range of important statistics and less important statistics, this is incredibly important. Think about it: Who looks at Web site bios? Potential clients, potential new hires and perhaps a smattering of competitors.

The huge inefficiency in most firms is that not nearly enough time is spent on improving and updating law firm bios. Law firm managers are so fixated on output (such as billable hours) that they are often blind to the most substantial inputs, such as understanding what persuades clients to hire their firms.

Law firms need a process and a routine for regularly improving all of their bios, whether they are on the website, on LinkedIn or even on Twitter. Your bio is your elevator presentation; it is what convinces people to pick up the phone and call you, or move on to the next Google search result. How can your law firm drastically improve its bios? For starters, give them the attention they deserve. It may not be sexy and it may not have been your firm’s focus in the past, but the data indicate that bios matter far more than firms are giving them credit for, and that is exactly the type of inefficiency Billy Beane took advantage of to beat out his better-funded competition.

To improve bios, we need to take a strategic look at them. What is the sole purpose of bios? To persuade potential clients to become clients. How persuasive are our bios? For a lesson on persuasion, we can take a page out of the writings of Aristotle. The concepts he shared about persuasion were just as valid thousands of years ago as they are today. He refers to three types of persuasion: logos, ethos and pathos. Most bios only use the first type of persuasion, logos.

Logos refers to logical arguments. “Hire this attorney; he attended Harvard Law School.” Or “This attorney was managing editor of Law Review at his school.” Other logical arguments may include, “Best Lawyer, AV Rated or listed in Chambers.” All nice, clean logical arguments to hire a lawyer. Are you persuaded by these? Some potential clients are, but most are looking for something more. They want someone who is the best, a leader in the field. That is when we come to ethos.

Ethos refers to an argument that makes an appeal to authority. “John Smith literally wrote the book on toxic tort litigation” or “Jane Smith is an adjunct professor at Yale Law School on fiduciary duties of members of closely held companies.” These are arguments that basically say, “This lawyer is the leading authority in the field on a certain area of law.” Other strategies to build an ethos argument include having a lawyer author a blog on a certain topic. “Jed Smith has written more than 100 articles in the past two years on wireless site development law.” You get the idea.

Perhaps the most powerful yet misunderstood form of persuasion is pathos. Pathos is the Latin root of the word pathetic, and as pathos refers to the emotional argument, it is often overlooked. Pathos isn’t always a winning strategy in court, so why does it need a place in our bios? Pathos involves likeability, trustworthiness and other less quantifiable features such as how easy it is for potential clients to get to know you. As humans, the majority of us have natural instincts towards pathos, and although we claim to make logical decisions, we are constantly choosing to buy from people we feel comfortable with, even if it isn’t always logical.

To create bios that have logos and ethos is fairly easy, and most firms have covered these two basis in spades. Where they are coming up short is in creating bios that touch on pathos. How do we bring pathos out in the attorneys? Ask the right questions. What made you to decide to practice law? What are the types of cases you are most passionate about? What do you want to have written on your tombstone? These are just a few questions I’ve collected that can help bring out the best in lawyers and help create more approachable bios.

Give it try, interview a few of your top business developers and see if you can’t improve their bios by including a little more pathos. The statistics show that buyers of legal services want more from law firm bios; let’s start working harder to give them what they want.

Adrian Dayton is a lawyer, author and speaker to law firms on business development and social media. His latest book is LinkedIn & Blogs for Lawyers: Building High Value Relationships in a Digital Age,(West 2012, co-authored by Amy Knapp). You can get a free chapter by filling out the appropriate form at http://adriandayton.com, or follow Adrian on Twitter @adriandayton.

Comments

One Response to “Build Better Lawyer Bios”

  1. Roz Keith says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. I am writing bios for my clients website and you make some excellent points.

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