If you were entirely new to the legal industry and you were judging law firms by their websites, you could be forgiven for believing that the only people to be found in said firms were lawyers. The great majority of law firm websites provide designated pages for each and every lawyer, but nothing more than a passing mention (if that) of their staff members, who often rival or surpass lawyers in total numbers.
It’s not immediately obvious why these invisible professionals, as I called them a few years ago, don’t merit inclusion on the firm’s website. If challenged on this point, your typical lawyer probably would say that clients don’t hire secretaries or paralegals or marketing directors, so why include them on the site? One might equally say that clients don’t actually hire any lawyers with fewer than five years’ experience, yet those lawyers receive their own pages. A 20-year legal assistant probably contributes more to the firm and deserves more kudos and respect than your average first-year associate, don’t you think? The real reason for this distinction, we can safely conclude, is that it’s another example of the “non-lawyer” bias among lawyers.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule, and they always cheer me up when I see them. This week, I received a request from a small family law firm to help their staff members prepare online profiles. Full marks to the firm for extending this offer, and I wish more firms would follow its example.
Yes, you can argue that a family law practice should profile their employees because clients will have more personal contact with law clerks and legal secretaries than they would at, say, a large national firm. But why shouldn’t every law firm provide their “non-lawyer” employees with their own web page? It’s not like these pages are expensive — Laurel can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the marginal cost of another page on a firm’s website is close to zero.
More to the point, offering this opportunity to staff members delivers real value in terms of morale and team-building. It tells the staffer that as far as the firm is concerned, he or she is an equally valued and appreciated member of the firm. You might object that a law firm’s lawyers don’t actually believe that, and you may be right; but that’s all the more reason for firms to take steps to infuse this ethic organization-wide.
Now, our client firm was seeking our assistance because some of their staffers had trepidations about writing their own profiles or were uncertain of how to begin. For them, and for you, here’s a suggested outline to help staff members create their own web profiles. The key is to remember that staff members aren’t just funny-looking lawyers, or lawyers who are a little different — they’re professionals in their own right, with different career paths, different interests, and different priorities than their lawyer employers.
- Title of position
- Description of position: what you do, your range of duties, a typical week’s work, etc.
- Significance of position: why your job matters to the firm
- If client-facing: how often you interact with clients and what you do to help them
- How long you’ve been with the firm
- How many years you’ve been in this line of work, or in the legal industry
- Training: this includes any degrees, diplomas, or certifications, along with the name of the institute that granted them
- Previous experience: this includes stints with other firms or related experience in another company or industry
- What you like best about the work you do: why it interests, excites or challenges you
- Where you’re from originally
- Any personal details you’re comfortable sharing: spouse and children (generic, no names), hobbies, interests, recent trips, noteworthy or meaningful accomplishments, favourite books or movies, etc.
- Why you enjoy working at your firm or for a particular lawyer or practice group
Not all your employees will want their own web pages on your firm’s website — many might feel uncomfortable with the higher profile, especially if a number of their colleagues decline the opportunity. But you should make the offer to them anyway, and encourage them to step forward and take their share of the spotlight.
Law firm websites should represent the whole firm, not just the people with law degrees. The sooner we do away with this arbitrary online distinction, the better.