People Don’t Follow Law Firms, They Follow Lawyers

Can law firm-generated content can be effectively distributed simply by putting it on the firm’s website or pushing it out over the firm’s social media channels?

“No way”, says Kevin O’Keefe in his recent post, It takes an entire law firm using social media to distribute content. He uses the example of journalists and reporters, for whom personal social media participation in the workplace is no longer optional:

“The New York Times has found that those news publishers whose reporters and editors personally share news stories on social media generate significantly more traffic to their news stories than publishers relying on the brand and isolated staff using social media to distribute stories (New York Times Innovation 2014 Report).”

Kevin goes on to  say:

“On Twitter, individuals with unique interests who establish trust, person to person, are more effective in the distribution of news and info than companies and law firms. People who get to know a person are more apt to read items the person shares, it’s only natural. … To assure that your law firm’s thought leadership, news and information gets seen in the days ahead, you’ll need to get your lawyers and law firm leaders using social media. Not just the lawyers who are publishing content, but everyone.”

This topic caught my eye; I wrote about the topic a couple years ago in a Slaw post on how law firms fail at social media.  I want to re-post a large chunk of it here because I think it bears repeating:

Think about it for a moment: unless a law firm has a very narrow, niche practice, it’s virtually impossible for a firm Twitter feed to be engaging and relevant to all clients, who potentially have hundreds of areas of interest and concern. But who knows, on a much more accurate level, what clients would be interested in? Who is perfectly positioned to generate a stream of relevant, useful tweets? Individual lawyers, of course. As the old saying goes, people don’t hire law firms, they hire lawyers.

I see the firm Twitter feed as a pool of abundant, high-quality, yet controlled, vetted messages about the firm, from which individual lawyers may cherry pick, passing along only the best to their readers, interspersed with their own tweets.

Add to this, the fact that an essential aspect of social media is reciprocity and interaction, something that corporate Twitter accounts often neglect entirely. But individual lawyers are more apt to develop the types of social networking relationships that aren’t just one way, replying, retweeting, and passing along information and links from outside sources.

In summary, clearly, it’s not healthy for any firm to be unidirectional in their approach to social media; we do, however, need to see the bigger picture – firm accounts and lawyer accounts must be considered collectively, not as separate entities.

Two years later, social media is embedded more deeply than ever within firm marketing activities. Considering all the hard work lawyers and firms invest creating content, wouldn’t it be wise to make sure the distribution channels you employ are as well thought out as the content itself? Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

  • One of the most critical jobs of your firm branded social accounts is to act as “a beacon of news and content” for your lawyers. Pipe as much relevant information about your firm through this stream as possible, then let your lawyers decide what’s relevant to their online presence. The firm account is a fire-hose, and your lawyers are the filter.
  • Your firm branded Twitter account should have a ‘twitter list’ aggregating ALL of your member accounts and content streams. Every firm lawyer should subscribe to that list and review it as part of their online activities.
  • Lawyers can automate the announcement of new articles to social tools, but that should be a tiny portion of their overall engagement.
  • Relationships drive healthy content distribution. Simply put: Engage with your peers, or don’t bother with social as a potential channel for your practice.
  • Lawyer to lawyer discussions between firm members are healthy. So are exchanges with industry colleagues. If you don’t know what you’re going to talk about, it’s time to give your firm’s narrative some off-line consideration.
  • You can have intelligent conversations about the law without giving legal advice. Add a disclaimer on your profile, or say it outright mid-conversation; but don’t stop your lawyers from having opinions about their chosen industry or area of expertise.

As we look over the Clawbies nominations coming in this year, there seems to be a real interest in the micro-blogging aspect of Twitter. Some lawyers do it well, while others fail miserably. The takeaway is that a carefully crafted stream of tweets can become an incredibly valuable component (or pairing) to a lawyer’s blogging and publishing activity. But the trick is two-fold: feed the machine with quality resources, while never taking one’s eye off the relationships behind the audience reading.

Latest Additions to Lawblogs.ca

Clawbies season is well underway (get your nominations in before December 23rd!) and before too long we’ll be annotating lawblogs.ca with this year’s winners. In the meantime, take a look at the latest crop of blogs to be added to the Canadian Law Blogs Directory:

Know of a blog we’re missing? Check out our submission guidelines and drop us a line.

 

 

Stem Client Roundup for November 2014

Hard to believe, but the year is drawing to an end. Here at Stem, we’re only a couple days away from the 2014 Clawbies kickoff, and our clients have been doing some exciting things themslves over the last few weeks. Read on for more details…

That’s it for this month; we’ll be back again with December’s news to wrap up 2014!

 

Words of Wisdom from a Law Firm Website Pioneer

I was thrilled to see Greg Siskind’s article in the September/October issue of Law Practice Magazine. Siskind tells the story of how he set up one of the very first law firm websites 20 years ago (two large firms were ahead of him, but he was the first small firm).

Some people credit me as being one of the early web coders in the legal industry, but here’s the reality: I didn’t get my start on legal websites until almost a full year after Greg had launched visalaw.com. I’ll also proudly admit that there was a period during the mid-9o’s when I think I read everything Greg wrote about the internet. His words and vision were gold to me.

I had a chance to meet Greg a few years ago at the COLPM conference. It was great to trade stories, but listening to him speak in person was a moment I’ll remember for a long time.

Greg’s article is like a walk down memory lane, describing the first time he learned about the world wide web and realized it was the ticket he needed to hang his own shingle. A few simple but smart moves later (registering a domain, starting an email newsletter and eventually a blog) and Greg’s immigration firm is one of the best-known in the country.

The whole article is a fascinating read, but I especially love the five takeaways Greg shares:

  1. Content is still king
  2. Websites still matter
  3. Evolve with the hardware
  4. Stay up on the tools
  5. Online is still a great place to invent yourself

At the end of the article, Greg concludes, “The Internet has given every lawyer the ability to be his or her own publisher and reach the whole world at almost no cost. The opportunities are still amazing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

See Law Firm Websites: The 20th Anniversary.

 

Stem Client Roundup for October 2014

Happy Halloween! Hope you are taking time today to have some fun, indulge in a few treats, and enjoy a little break from the busyness of the fall. Between launching new websites, speaking engagements, and blogging, our clients certainly have been busy this past month. Read on for more details.

That’s it for this month; we’ll be back again in another few weeks with more news to share.

 

The Role of Publishing In The Marketing-Sales Continuum

In most parts of the business world not owned and operated by lawyers, “Marketing” and “Sales” are inextricably linked. Companies carry out marketing solely for the purpose of increasing their sales, either for specific transactions (e.g., advertising campaigns or temporary price discounts) or for general branding (e.g., market awareness or consumer profile). It’s a natural continuum with a built-in feedback loop: sales metrics are analyzed by marketers to assess how well or how poorly various marketing initiatives proved to be, and campaigns are intensified, adjusted, or ended accordingly.

In law firms, the relationship between Marketing and Sales is usually more tenuous and sometimes has been severed altogether. Marketing is carried out by one group of people (generally “non-lawyer” professionals) and sales by another (lawyers, usually partners or “rainmakers”). The two sides don’t always consider that they’re involved in the same function, and often don’t have much understanding of or respect for what the other does.

Firms that lack a proper understanding of the marketing-sales relationship fail to view these elements as two ends of the same continuum. They don’t track sales results against marketing efforts, for example, or fully align marketing to the business development strategy (if there even is one). In many law firms, the only time the salespeople talk to the marketers is to complain about slow business, to demand a one-off personalized promotion, or to answer yet another RFP from a large corporate client. It doesn’t help that the salespeople don’t even like the word “sales” and use it as little as possible, making it harder to accurately describe the relationship internally.

Eventually, as part of the overall transformation of law firms into sophisticated professional businesses, Marketing and Sales will be unified and the continuum/feedback loop will operate correctly as a matter of course (this is already underway in the sharpest firms). The publishing function within law firms can, I believe, play a part in hastening this unification.

Traditionally, law firm publishing has fallen squarely into the Marketing function. From the very first newsletter to the most recently launched blog, law firms have published content in order to increase market awareness, principally by informing clients about legal developments and promoting the expertise of lawyers through their written work. Law firms publish content as widely as possible, necessitating that the content be general and broadly applicable to diverse audiences. Even the name most law firms give to publishing — “content marketing” — expresses its underlying purpose: increasing the profile of the firm and its lawyers in specific practice or industry areas.

What would law firm publishing look like if it were instead designed to support Sales? The biggest difference between Marketing and Sales, of course, is that the latter is targeted and action-oriented: the firm is speaking with one specific customer and offering a very specific range of services in a retainer relationship. There’s no sense bringing articles or blog posts to a sales meeting: that’s like bringing your Match.com profile along on your first date. These items of content marketing have served their purpose: they’ve helped get you the meeting. But because they’re general and widely applicable, they don’t help you get the sale (and they may actually hurt the effort, if the customer perceives from the provision of marketing bumpf that the firm does not appreciate its specific needs).

What you need at this meeting is Sales Content. You need a package of materials geared to this specific client for the specific type of work or case or matter for which the lawyer is pitching her services. This kind of content is more like a research document or white paper created solely for this meeting, to establish the firm’s interest and expertise in the client and the matter at hand. It might be an overview of industry trends and the client’s prospects therein, prior to seeking a role on a major amalgamation or expansion. It might be an analysis of results of the last ten class actions against companies in the client’s industry, or the outcomes of the last five similar class actions the firm defended, to accompany a request to defend the client’s current litigation.

This kind of content is not meant to show off how experienced or clever the lawyers are in general, but to show how the firm understands and is on top of matters directly related to the client and the specific matter at hand. Content like this is not intended to close the deal by itself — invariably, it’s the sales skills of the lead partner and the relationship she’s fostering with the client that plays that role. But the content does supplement and reinforce those skills and relationships by demonstrating the firm’s intense interest and assertion of confidence in this client and this matter.

Creating Sales content requires a different mindset and approach than creating Marketing content, because it will be deployed only for one client and only on one designated occasion. That might seem daunting to a firm that thinks of content marketing as a broad-based, low-risk effort: if the sales pitch fails, then all the content created to support the pitch is wasted. But that kind of effort and risk assumption is the sort of thing grown-up firms do: they understand that Sales requires going many extra miles and that the potential payoff is worth it. And they understand that the content will not really be wasted even if the sales effort fails: it can be fed back and used to analyze what went wrong and what could be done better next time.

Law firm publishing can and should help bridge the gap between Marketing and Sales, but only if the firm makes the conscious choice and commitment of resources to do so. Start thinking today about what Sales Content, as opposed to Content Marketing, would look like in your firm and how it could be used best. There’s no better place to start those inquiries than by asking the salespeople themselves.

Better Than a Free Lunch: Lunch Hour Legal Marketing Webinars

They say the best things in life are free, but that expression doesn’t always apply to CPD. Lucky for us, Lunch Hour Legal Marketing (LHLM) is one of those rare cases where you get a whole lot more than you paid for (in a good way).

We haven’t talked too much about LHLM here before, and that’s a shame, because it really is fantastic. For the unfamiliar, LHLM is a free monthly webinar series with a huge list of past presenters (last year, Steve did one on creating and managing a law firm publishing culture). You can check them all out via the “Webinars” dropdown menu. You’re sure to recognize many of the past presenters as well-known legal marketers and bloggers (Susan Cartier Liebel, Kevin O’Keefe, Catherine Sanders Reach and Bob Ambrogi, to name just a few).

Last week, Jeff Lantz of Esquire Interactive LLC gave a talk on “Resonation to Revenue: How to Transform Your Website into a Dynamic Client-Generation Tool” and his slides and audio will be available on the LHLM site shortly. The webinar covers lots of topics that will be of interest to readers of this blog: how to create a first impression that resonates, using parallax design effectively, creating client-centered websites, common law firm website faux pas to avoid, and mobile/responsive web best practices.

There’s another webinar tomorrow: lawyer, career coach and diversity consultant Marguerite Fletcher will present “Lost Art: Developing Personal Referrals“.

Lunch Hour Legal Marketing is a joint effort of Mass LOMAP, Suffolk University Law School’s Advanced Legal Studies, the Chicago Bar Association’s Law Practice Management & Technology, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.

On a related note, LOMAP’s Heidi Alexander tells me that plans are underway for the 5th Annual Super Marketing Conference, taking place in Boston in June 2015. The theme will be social media, and if the 2014 presenters are any indication, there will be a lot to look forward next year! You can also check out slide decks and high-quality video from this year’s conference for an idea of what to expect – login instructions are at the conference homepage. There is some really great stuff there. I especially enjoyed the video of the Lies & Truths Panel with Conrad Saam, Gyi Tsakalakis, and Leigh McMillan.

Nice Niche!

I was sitting in a waiting room the other day, leafing through a magazine, when an ad caught my eye. It was for a moving company with a very specific target market. Winnipeg-based The Seniors Moving Company offers seniors and their families help with a variety of circumstances such as downsizing or relocating to a retirement or nursing home, and they also assist with selling homes and their contents through and estate services.

“What a brilliant idea!” I thought. Even though I have no such need in my life, I found myself pulling up the company’s website to find out more about them. They have a simple website that contains helpful information, like an extensive, locally-customized address change checklist, a detailed list of what sorts of things they do for their clients, and testimonials from past customers.

According to the site, The Seniors Moving Company will “honour the emotions, values and wishes of every client in coordinating the practical details of their move”. The company’s owner is certified in conflict resolution and has more than a decade of education and experience working with seniors.

Hmm… a business devoted to providing expert service to a specific group, that has in-depth local knowledge and experience with its target clients’ emotional needs, values, and wishes…. sounds an awful lot like a successful niche law practice, doesn’t it?

The topic of niches has been on my mind lately. Everywhere I turn, I’m seeing articles and blog posts touting the savvy path of developing a narrow but in-depth focus on a particular practice area or clientele.

Drew Hasselback had a good article on DMC Law, an Ontario firm that specializes in business law for dentists (Finding their niche: young lawyers bite into the dental market). What seemed like a stretch at first — only dentists? — turned out to be easier than making a name for themselves in a broader practice area. Firm co-founder David Mayzel was initially skeptical, but soon saw that “diving deep” could work:

No matter what you try to do, it’s going to be hard at the beginning, Mr. Mayzel adds. Stick with it, focus, and become the recognized expert in a particular field. “Try not to be a generalist and dabble in different areas, because you’re likely going to drown. You can’t be everything to everyone. Try to be the one person to one group.”

Bob Ambrogi shared a new legal blog, Michael McCabe’s IPethics & INsights, noting that it was indeed the first of its kind, blending “legal ethics, professional discipline and professional liability in the specific context of patent and trademark law.” A niche that was untapped, until now. According to Ambrogi,

“There is a lesson here for other lawyers who are just thinking about starting blogs. It may seem like there are no topics yet to be covered. But perhaps by focusing on a more narrow aspect of a broader topic, there is a unique niche to be found.”

When I reported on several unrepresented blog topics in Canada, Kevin O’Keefe chimed in with words of encouragement, showing that the rewards can be greater than just increased business and that there’s a need for niche reporting now more than ever:

“Chasing an uncovered niche in the law is not only valuable for you in developing business, but like uncovered state houses, it’s valuable for society.

With the decline in newspapers and traditional media, we’re not getting the coverage on a myriad of niches that we have in the past. We’ve also come to expect that when we turn to the Internet we’ll find high quality information on any subject in the world. You can fill the voids for us.”

Whether it’s your blog or your entire practice built around a very specific market, it’s clear there are  major benefits to nurturing your niche, and we’re only just seeing the tip of the iceberg now. I’m looking forward to seeing what new niche blogs will pop up on lawblogs.ca  in the near future!

What’s new at Lawblogs.ca?

It’s probably fair to say that no one is all that excited about the cold weather that’s rapidly approaching. But for us at Stem, it means that the Clawbies will be here soon (nominations open December 1st)! With new Canadian law blogs cropping up regularly, it’s anyone’s guess which blogs will be among this year’s award winners. Could they be among the blogs added to lawblogs.ca since our last update? Only time will tell!

Know of a blog that’s not yet listed on lawblogs.ca? Check our submission guidelines and let us know!

Stem Client Roundup for September 2014

The air’s a little cooler, the leaves are turning, and the kids are back in school – fall is definitely here! September was full of hustle and bustle here at Stem and for our clients. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to over the past month:

We’ll be back again next month with more client news to share.

 

 

 

How To Talk To Lawyers About Online Content Marketing

A friend of mine recently asked for my thoughts on how to speak to lawyers about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Steve Matthews is Stem’s resident guru on these topics, and I make it a point to look foolish only in my areas of authority. But if the mechanics of SEO aren’t in my wheelhouse, speaking to lawyers is — and so I came up with a series of suggestions for how my friend could get through to lawyers about using the Web to publish, profile, and otherwise promote themselves online.

1. The “non-lawyer” hurdle. An initial challenge faced by many people in this position is that (un)fortunately, they’re not lawyers. Lawyers, as we know, tend not to respect even trained professionals if they lack legal credentials. Couple that with the foreign and confusing nature (from lawyers’ point of view) of SEO and SEM, and the hill steepens. For that reason, I would employ matter-of-fact straight talk, with a strong no-nonsense, businesslike approach to the subject. Lawyers respect strength and confidence (so long as they’re still unquestionably the alpha dogs in the room), and I find they respond well to a direct, fact-driven, and logical approach, coupled with:

2. The provision of actual facts. The great thing about science, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently observed, is that it’s true whether or not you believe it. I would establish early in the session that SEO and online search aren’t fundamentally about marketing or client outreach or other touchy-feely things that lawyers hate. They’re about science and technology. They’re grounded in the ways in which incredibly complex algorithms parse untold reams of complex data to identify real value for the user. And they’re at the core of the sales and marketing successes of billion-dollar companies worldwide. Data, science, and money — many lawyers don’t get the first two, but they sure get the third, and they’ll follow any trail that takes them there.

3. The staggering enormity of online. Simply put, everyone looks for everything on the internet today. Even if the Web played no part in how a lawyer’s stable of current clients found her (which is pretty unlikely), there’s an excellent chance her next clients will take this path. This especially figures to be the case for people who haven’t used lawyers before, and/or whose issue falls into “consumer law” areas such as family, wills, and personal injury. This is the only reason lawyers need to care about SEO and online content marketing generally — it’s what’s going to drive paying clients in their direction. Paper the lawyers with extensive data from respected sources that demonstrate how online visibility is a huge driver of potential new business.

4. The pointlessness of finishing second. If you’re on the first page of Google search results for “things you want to be known for,” you win. If you’re on page 2, you might as well be on page 200; you lose. This is a brutal competition, and you’re up against the same lawyers here as you are in your practice: same competition, different battlefield. Getting this idea across to lawyers is important, partly because it’s obviously true, and partly because it taps into both lawyers’ goal-setting fetish and their competitive obsession. It’s especially effective if you can demonstrate how a rival practitioner whom the lawyer considers clearly inferior is outperforming the lawyer in search results, thanks to more frequent and higher-quality online content.

5. The responsibility of lawyers. There’s really no more important message to deliver than this. In order to be found on the Web, you need to put stuff there that people will find. That stuff has to be relevant and useful to your clients, and it needs to be distinctive and representative about your practice. And it would be nice if it were somewhat readable. That’s content marketing. Your search rankings are not the Marketing Department’s job, any more than your legal work is Marketing’s responsibility. Ultimately, you and only you control your SEO outcomes, because only you can put the relevant, useful, and distinctive stuff there for people to find. Lawyers need to hear, understand, and accept this fact.

Help lawyers appreciate that content marketing is real and it is proven — again and again, in markets and industries worldwide. Online content marketing works, it works in the law, and it matters in business development. Is it everything? No. Is it the essence of being a great lawyer? Obviously not. But it’s a big piece of the puzzle of getting the lawyer noticed and on the road to getting her hired. And it all hinges on the lawyer’s direct, frequent, and engaged participation in the process. That’s a message that lawyers should understand — and hopefully, one they’ll go on to implement.

Stem Client Roundup for August 2014

Whether you consider the end of summer as “the most wonderful time of the year“, or are sad to see the sunny weather on the wane, the end of August is here, and soon we’ll all be back into the full swing of fall. Check out our latest installment of company news, and here’s a quick look at what our clients got up to over this past month:

We’ll be back next month with more notable client news to share.

CBA Futures Report: Roundup of Reaction

A few weeks back, I published a summary of the new CBA Futures Report over on Slaw.ca. The input and reaction to this report is something we’ve been tracking here at Stem; as we all seem to think (in time) having a more open Canadian marketplace will inspire more creative web services.  It’s difficult to say when and at what pace that type of innovation will happen, but I do believe the report outlines a path for that type of innovation.

In the aftermath of the report’s release, our internal process of ‘subject tracking’ ended up producing an aggregated list of responses and summaries from around the web.  I’d like to share that list (below)… Enjoy!

CBA Futures reaction roundup — starting with the more opinion-based pieces then moving into news/summaries

Jason Morris at Gauntlet.ca: CBA Legal Future Report

Lee Akizaki: Why can’t a lawyer be more like a share capital corporation? A reflection on the CBA Legal Futures Final Report

Jordan Furlong at Law21: Watershed: The CBA Futures Report

Law Scout at Medium.com: If the Future of Law is here, why are only the lawyers listening?

Milan Markovic at Legal Ethics Forum: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada Part I: Where is the Data?

Carolyn Elefant at MyShingle.com: If We Change Rules to Allow Non-Lawyers to Own Law Firms, How About Changing Them to let Lawyers Compete?

Alexandre Thibault at Edilex: Le financement par des non-avocats: le future de la profession?

Nick Hilborne at Legal Futures: ABSs set to cross the Atlantic

Daniel Fish at Precedent: Law grads need debt forgiveness programs, says Canadian Bar Association

Mallory Hendry at 4Students: Futures report offers some food for thought for law students, teachers

Ian Mackenzie at Mackenzie DRS: Off-loading lawyers’ training and development

Mitch Kowalski at Legal Post: Canadian Bar Association charts a bold new course

Steven Dyrkstra: CBA Makes Sweeping Recommendations to Change Canadian Legal Profession

Drew Hasselback at Legal Post: Let non-lawyers own Canadian law firms, bar association says

Jeff Gray at The Globe and Mail: Let non-lawyers own law firms: Canadian Bar Association

Pete Evans at CBC: Let law firms be sold to non-lawyers, Canadian Bar Association says

Yamri Taddese at Legal Feeds: CBA calls for total overhaul of professional regulation

Yamri Taddese at Law Times: Dramatic changes on tap as CBA report touts outside ownership

Glenn Kauth at Law Times: Editorial: Bold move by CBA

f We Change Rules to Allow Non-Lawyers to Own Law Firms, How About Changing Them to Let Lawyers Compete? – See more at: http://myshingle.com/2014/08/articles/future-fridays/change-rules-allow-non-lawyers-law-firms-changing-let-lawyers-compete/#sthash.7GKB1UsN.dpuf
If We Change Rules to Allow Non-Lawyers to Own Law Firms, How About Changing Them to Let Lawyers Compete? – See more at: http://myshingle.com/2014/08/articles/future-fridays/change-rules-allow-non-lawyers-law-firms-changing-let-lawyers-compete/#sthash.7GKB1UsN.dpuf
Off-loading lawyers’ training and development
Off-loading lawyers’ training and development

Stem Client Roundup for July 2014

American author Hal Borland once said, “Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.” A bit of a deflating thought! Here at Stem we’re all managing to take some time off to make the most of our short Canadian summer, and we hope all our clients are finding ways to balance their hard work throughout July with some R&R.  Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to over the last month:

 

We hope you do some fun and memorable things during the second half of the summer – come January, you’ll be glad you did!

This Is My Life: Stop Writing About Yourself In The Third Person

“He has a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘They hold those truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

“He considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And he might have been given a bad break, but he’s got an awful lot to live for.”

“They shall go on to the end; they shall fight in France; they shall fight on the seas and oceans; they shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; they shall defend their island, whatever the cost may be … they shall never surrender.”

Something not quite right about the foregoing quotations, isn’t there?

Great speeches are great not just because of their soaring rhetoric, their stirring ideals, and their inspirational calls to action. As these badly re-engineered quotations demonstrate, they’re great because they’re delivered in the first person. The speaker puts himself directly into his speech, puts his vision and commitment and personal sacrifice right there on the line. I have a dream. I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. We shall never surrender.

When I (or we) communicate a fact or idea in the first person singular (or plural), my presence and responsibility and dedication are clear, and they resonate with readers and listeners. When people communicate a fact or idea in the third person, however, that responsibility is sidestepped, that dedication is compromised, and that presence is removed several steps away. (Notice how the passive voice automatically shows up in the third person?) And when you talk about yourself in the third person, you not only put a damaging amount of distance between you and who you say you are, you also suggest that you’re at best a little pompous and at worst a touch delusional.

And yet lawyers constantly talk about themselves in the third person in their own biographies, on their own web pages. It’s an affectation and a distraction. “Jane is a partner in the firm’s Litigation Department who specializes in class action defence. She is often retained by Fortune 500 companies. Her hobbies include hiking and travel.” Who is supposed to be speaking here? Is this a toast given at a wedding reception? Is the reader to assume this biography has been written by an admiring third party, without the lawyer’s input but with her graceful acquiescence?

When you describe your practice, skills and experiences in the third person, you might think you’re being appropriately modest or professionally circumspect. In reality, you’re putting unnecessary distance between yourself and your own best qualities. Law is a relationship business, and the best relationships are made directly, between two people who are open and honest with each other. Third-person biographies insert an imaginary third person into that relationship, complicating things and creating a sense of detachment or distance on the lawyer’s part.

Good lawyers don’t do this when they practice their craft. The most effective advocates don’t tell the court, “It is my client’s position that…” They say to the court, “We believe that…” It’s a subtle change, but a powerful one, communicating ownership and commitment and alignment with the client. There’s every reason to apply the same approach to our website biographies.

Consider these two bios:

  • “Gary is a partner with Parable & Metaphor LLP. He focuses his practice on business law, serving clients in the manufacturing and recycling sectors in areas such as environmental compliance and new product development. An avid golfer, he enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.”
  • “I’ve been a partner with Parable & Metaphor LLP for six years. I help clients in the manufacturing and recycling sectors with a wide range of business law matters. I make sure they comply with environmental regulations and help them develop new products for their markets. I love to play golf, ideally while travelling across the country with my wife and three kids.”

The information is pretty much the same in both, but the personal touch of the second one encourages the provision of more detail and invites a level of openness and engagement with the reader (and notice that saying “I” allows you to connect more easily and effectively with the work you do for the clients you serve.) By contrast, the first one reads like a cookie-cutter description of Any Lawyer Esq., or maybe a testimonial elicited under some level of duress. There’s a stiffness and distance about third-person biographies that’s unconsciously off-putting to the reader or listener, and it’s completely unnecessary.

Own the details of your life and career with pride and enthusiasm. Show your willingness to commit to a relationship with your biography’s reader. Stop pretending that some invisible authority has independently studied and described you, like an anthropologist drily detailing a new species. Stand up, speak out, and be yourself. Clients want to know who you are and whether they’ll like working with you. Tell them the first, so that they can start to decide the second.

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