By Heidi Turner.
Is there anything as daunting as sitting at your computer with a blank Word document in front of you and a blinking cursor anticipating your every word? This is a common issue that lawyers face as they try writing their website content, especially when they write about themselves. Of all the content, your bio would seem these easiest—it’s about you, after all—but it’s often the most difficult.
The problem with writing about yourself is that there’s simultaneously too much and too little information to share. You have years of existence, but how much of it is relevant to your audience? What do people want to know about you? Should they know where you were born? How much you love your dog? What journals you wrote for?
Often, what law school teaches us is important—where we got our degree from, what awards or citations we’ve received—is only important to a very small group, usually other lawyers.
Your clients care more about how you help people like them. Yet, because we see so many others list their awards and accomplishments on their website, we think we have to as well.
So how do you determine what to write for your website? And, how do you guide the process so it isn’t an incredibly painful ordeal?
The trick is in asking questions.
For the past five years, I’ve instructed writers and editors at a local university. I’ve taught a variety of courses, but the main course—and my favourite—is on running their own business and, specifically, finding clients.
The first assignment they’re given is to write a business vision in which they answer a series of questions about where they are now and where they want to be.
Often when I read their answers to the questions I comment that when it comes time to write their website content, they should use those answers to form their website content. That’s because the answers to their questions are so compelling and engaging that they automatically stand out.
Answering questions gives you a framework for writing about yourself. Rather than thinking “What do I need people to know about me?” or “What will impress people?” these questions help you determine what information is relevant, what makes you different and what will engage people.
Questions give us a starting point for our thoughts. It’s overwhelming to think, “I need to write important information about me so readers will want to work with me.” But it’s easier to answer a few questions designed to draw out meaningful information.
Because you’re answering questions—and at least to start you’re writing answers only you will see—you’re free to go where your answer takes you. Even if it seems silly to write something at first, that thought may lead to another thought that resonates with you and possibly with your audience.
Give yourself time to focus and don’t censor yourself yet
Below is a list of questions to answer when you’re writing about yourself. Take your time when you answer them. Give yourself 5 - 10 minutes per question to just write, and try to do so when you won’t be interrupted. Write down every thought as you think it. You can go back later and delete anything irrelevant, but the key here is to keep writing and follow where the thought takes you.
Once you’re done, go through your answers and look for themes. If a lot of your answers revolved around problem solving, then that’s probably an important part of what you do. You’ll want to reflect that in your content. Organize your thoughts so you see the various themes and recognize which information seems to be the most vital and relevant. Also pay attention to the sentences that resonated with you the most or feel unique to you. Use those as write your content.
Don’t worry about how your initial answers will read on a website or what people will think, and definitely don’t focus on impressing people yet.
Just answer the questions honestly and openly without censoring yourself. Within your answers, you’ll find the what makes you stand out.
Your answers might even surprise you.
Questions to ask yourself
1. Why do I do what I do?
Everyone has a story, and sometimes the background behind why or how we got to where we are says a lot about us. It also helps us connect with each other.
Explore why you got into law in the first place and then why you got into your particular area of law.
Your story might start with when you were young and wanted to help people. Maybe you loved law and wanted to help marginalized communities. Or maybe you loved the idea of helping people solve problems, and law was the best way for you to do that.
2. How did I get to where I am?
This question is a bit more mechanical than the one above but it can also highlight important differentiators between you and other lawyers. What did you do after law school that led you to where you are right now and why did you take those steps?
Did you start at a large firm but miss the personal connection that comes with working at a smaller firm? Maybe you went in the opposite direction because you felt that your experience was better suited to a speciality at a larger firm. Did you start working for insurance companies and realize you weren’t as fulfilled, so you became a personal injury lawyer?
Write out the decisions you made and why you made them.
3. What’s my favourite part of this role?
Which of your moments as a lawyer are your favourite moments, and why? Do you love the moment when a client realizes an expert is going to help them and can breathe a sigh of relief? Is it when your client has a path through bankruptcy and can finally see light at the end of the tunnel? Is it when clients come in with misinformation about their situation and you’re able to help them get on the right path?
Think about the moments that make what you do entirely worthwhile and what it is about those moments that makes them so important to you.
4. Who do I help?
Here’s where you get into your niche, or your target audience. Write down the characteristics that your ideal clients have in common. Include information like demographics, the problems they need solved, their pain points, how they view lawyers, and any other shared characteristics.
Then, go a bit deeper. How do they feel when they first meet with you? Are they stressed about a pending lawsuit?
Excited because their business is growing? Do they see you as an important part of their success or as another service provider? Are they the type of client to reach out to you to prevent a problem or the type to connect when there’s an issue that needs to be cleaned up? What’s important to them?
5. How do I want my clients to see me?
What are the words you hope your clients use to describe you (or the process of working with you)?
As you start you might just write a long list of obvious words that most people would say. Try to keep it to those that are most important to you. If you have a hard time narrowing it down, start big and then look through your list for themes. For example, if you’ve written that you hope they refer to you as communicative, honest and direct, you might group those under “transparent.”
6. How do I want my clients to feel after meeting with me?
This is different from how you want your clients to see you because it focuses on their emotional state, which is how you connect with your audience.
Think of their state of mind when they see you and the transformation that you provide. Do they immediately feel more relaxed after meeting with you? Do they feel more in control of their future? Do they feel more informed about their situation?
Again, you might want to write a very long list of feelings, but try to narrow it down to no more than the three most important.
7. How have I already helped people who are similar to my target audience?
This is key because it establishes your expertise and allows your potential clients to see themselves reflected in the work you do. Find some examples of people you’ve helped who fit the themes you’ve identified above and write a few short stories that illustrate each of the values and emotions you’ve described above.
These stories can be short—they often don’t need to be more than a paragraph. And, you can keep identifying information private, so you’re not violating any confidentiality agreements. Include emotional details to help your reader connect with the story.
Consider the difference between the following:
Experience: I helped a person who was hit by a truck and suffered permanent injuries obtain a $1 million settlement.
One client I helped was a young woman who had been hit by a truck during her morning run. Despite her suffering extensive injuries requiring immediate and urgent medical attention, the insurance company claimed my hard-working client faked her injuries to obtain a better settlement. As her lawyer, I collected the overwhelming medical evidence needed to prove her injuries were very real, stressful and traumatic.
I also took over communications with the insurance company so she could focus on the long process of recovering. Ultimately, we obtained a $1 million settlement, which covered her medical costs and provided compensation for her pain and suffering.
The second version is more relatable and emotional, and it shows people how you help, rather than telling them. It creates a connection with your reader and it allows them to see themselves reflected in your content, so they get more of a sense of how your expertise helps in situations like theirs. Finally, it shows that you see your clients as human facing important struggles, rather than as a case to be won.
As an added bonus, if keywords are important to you there is room to include them without sounding like you’re reciting a list of words for the sake of having them. For example, you could mention some of the specific injuries the client received or name the region the client was in when they were injured.
Next time you have to write about yourself, go through a list of questions you can answer that help your potential clients better understand who you are and how you help them.
This content will be more engaging and relatable, and it will help you stand out from your competition. It will likely also be easier to write.
About the Author Heidi Turner is an award-winning legal writer and editor. Since 2006, she has helped her clients in the legal industry—including lawyers and law firms, legal technology companies, and legal SaaS organizations—connect with their target audience and establish their authority.
She helps her clients find authentic ways to engage their audience and build a reputation, with a focus on client-centric communications.
In addition to her writing and editing work, Heidi is an instructor in Simon Fraser University's editing program.