Time to update your e-mail signature line

Originally published in The National Law Journal on January 2, 2012

In early 2009, Melanie Green, marketing director of Baker & Daniels (which combined with Faegre & Benson on Jan. 1 to form Faegre Baker Daniels) announced via Twitter that her firm had added social media icons to its website that would allow visitors to share information from their site with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

“Shortly after beginning communicating our information through these tools, it naturally made sense to use our website as a way to tell our visitors how to find us,” Green said. “We added call-out buttons on our news pages, telling visitors to follow us on Twitter, and then added links to professionals’ bios who were becoming active in the space. All of these steps were part of an integrated plan to utilize and leverage social media tools and have continued to develop over the past several years.”

At that time, this was completely unheard of among large law firms. Since then, this use of social media by firms has become far more commonplace. The logic is simple: law firms want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to their sites to share their articles, blog posts or white papers with their own networks. The icons allow that information to be dispersed with the click of a button. It is an inexpensive and effective tool.

A similarly powerful yet easy change for professional firms is updating e-mail signature lines. Your signature line is the information that ends every e-mail — typically, your name, firm name, mailing address, telephone number and fax number.

It makes sense for professionals to have their fax numbers and physical addresses in their signature lines, but from a marketing and business development perspective this information is almost completely irrelevant. Signature lines could be improved if lawyers added information that would lead to continued engagement. For example, Roy Ginsburg, an employment lawyer and partner with Dorsey & Whitney, is the author of the blog quirkyemploymentquestions.com. Just below his name in his signature line he has a link to his blog.

Other lawyers include a headline and link to their most recent blog post or article. By featuring your latest article or blog post in your signature line, you show contacts and potential clients how well you understand your practice area or industry.

Another technique is to include links to your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. When you send someone a message and they want to learn more about you, they can always go to your official law firm bio, but if they want more, including more links in your signature line gives them exactly that.

Providing links to your social networks sites helps potential clients learn to whom you are connected and what connections you have in common. It gives context about who you are and what you are about. Law firms sometimes complain that they don’t want visitors leaving their site, but they are missing the point of the Web site. It isn’t merely to advertise the firm, but also to provide potential clients with the information they need to make a very expensive decision about who to hire for services.

So why are most firms stuck in the 2000’s when it comes to e-mail signatures? Two reasons — fear of the unknown and fear of individuality. Changing a lawyer’s e-mail signature line is messing with something that has been the same for more than a decade, and that can be hard for lawyers. The even larger challenge, however, is fear of individuality. If a firm lets one lawyer include a link to his blog or LinkedIn profile, then doesn’t it have to let all the lawyers provide links? What about the lawyers who don’t blog — won’t they look bad? What about the lawyers who hate LinkedIn and refuse to use the Internet — we wouldn’t want them to stand out as different, would we?

All of these fears are absurd. If one of your lawyers holds a J.D./MBA from Harvard, you include this in her bio. Not because it makes her fit in with the rest of your lawyers, but specifically because of how much it makes her stand out. The same principle applies to e-mail signatures: Some of your lawyers have put tens and hundreds of hours into blogging or into participating on LinkedIn or Twitter. Don’t they deserve to stand out because of it? Isn’t it a positive to show that lawyers at your firm effectively use social media? Isn’t it good to show that you aren’t stuck back in the past?

Does it make the rest of your lawyers look bad? Of course not, because the nonblogging lawyers are not exactly a minority — lawyers aren’t the most tech-savvy people around, after all. Would it be better if all of your lawyers created effective LinkedIn profiles and blogged about their areas of expertise? Absolutely. But just because your firm isn’t there yet, it doesn’t mean you have to hold back the rest of your lawyers in the name of conformity.

The signature lines of the future can be so much stronger. Here are just a few possible items to include:

  • Link to the lawyer’s recent blog posts.
  • Link to a major news source that recently quoted the lawyer.
  • Link to video of the lawyer.
  • Link to his or her LinkedIn profile.
  • Link to the lawyer’s Twitter account.
  • Link the individual lawyer’s bio on the firm’s website.
  • Link to recent charity or nonprofit work.

Signature lines are just another simple way to help your lawyers brand themselves and highlight their writing and online participation. Signature lines can’t be one-size fits-all anymore — lawyers are just too different nowadays. Their experience is different, their clothes and hairstyles are different. Their e-mail signatures should be different, too.



2 Responses to “Time to update your e-mail signature line”

  1. Nice article, Adrian, and great timing, as far as I am concerned. Our firm launched a new website today (which, I might add, includes many links to our attorneys’ blogs, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn pages, etc.), and now I am getting ready to turn my attention to our email signature blocks. Your article will help me sell the concept internally, so thank you!

  2. Damian says:

    Great points Adrian. I would also encourage anyone updating their signatures that it is far more effective to make their signature have links than embedded or attatched logos. Attatchments make your emails look like corporate spam, while html links just offer a quick suggestion.

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