Lee Rosen has a read-worthy post this morning about lawyer biographies (Spoiler: They’re crappy).
(Most of what Rosen writes is worth reading, actually. His website is outstanding, and I particularly appreciate his (bifurcated?) approach to family law, where he has focused on the ends of the financial spectrum. He services either wealthy clients whose divorces are contested or low-income clients with relatively simple issues through automation and unbundling. In this way, he leverages his experience, makes a ton of passive money, and provides a viable market solution to the so-called “justice gap,” i.e., the undeniable reality that most people can’t afford the legal services they need.)
So lawyer biographies are terrible, chock full of information that all other lawyers probably already know or assume and no client cares about. This could reveal either (or both, I suppose) of these two depressing realities about lawyers: 1) They mindlessly do exactly what everyone else does, and/or 2) They actually think that clients care about that stuff. I shudder at the latter.
The usual offenders I see are as follows:
1. Law Review. (“Yes, please tell me about your expert analysis of an arcane legal issue you performed during your second year of law school, which culminated in you being made the Dwight Schrute (in a non-cool way) of your law review. You know, something like Co-Assistant to the Executive Editor for Formatting.”)
2. Licensure. (“You’re licensed in BOTH the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas?!? Phew! You had me worried about that one.”)
3. Notable cases. (“So, like, did you win them? Did you do a good job? Oh wait, that’s right, I’ll just go take a gander at the Arkansas Reports to determine whether you’ll be the right lawyer for me.”)
Clients don’t care about this stuff. Actually, I don’t think I would care about most of this stuff if I was going to hire a lawyer. This may have been different at some point in the past (I have my doubts, actually), but that ship has sailed: People hire people, not details. A lawyer bio (on a website or elsewhere) is often a lawyer’s first and only chance to connect with someone. And law review does not a connection make. (Save it for your C.V., available on request. If they care about it, they’ll ask.)
The better course (if the voluminous literature and personal anecdotes have merit) is to show clients that you’re a real person. I don’t think this has to be (or even should be, necessarily) strange hobbies or your favorite ice cream flavor. Instead, your lawyer bio needs to convey who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re proud of some of the aforementioned “usual offenders,” list them later and try to work them into a larger narrative about who you are. (Ex: “I wrote this law review article because I am passionate about riparian water rights because my dad took me duck hunting when I was a kid,” or “I argued and won (or lost) this case before the Arkansas Supreme Court to protect every Arkansan’s God-given right to fly a kite during a thunderstorm.”)
The grim reality about a good lawyer bio is that we don’t write them because we often don’t have anything to say. (A struggle for all of us.) We talk about law review and top-papers because it’s easy and we don’t have to answer hard questions like “Why am I doing this? or “What kind of lawyer do I want to be?” Sadly, I fear our answers to those questions would often be even worse than the drudgery of dry, bullet-pointed legal accolades: “Please call me because I went to school for seven years and need money!” or “Hire me and I’ll make sure that small conflict you have over that contract turns into a knock-down, drag-out fight, with billable hours to boot!”
Perhaps that’s a good goal for us: Practice in a way where writing a good lawyer bio would be as easy as walking someone through our day.