Over the last decade, law firm websites have become as fundamental as listings in the phone book. But personal websites for individual attorneys are far less common. Attorneys at firms of all sizes seem content to accept nothing more than a brief bio page or paragraph within their firm's website.
Unfortunately, this approach is not ideal. At larger firms, individual accomplishments and achievements may become buried among thousands of other attorney profiles or drown in the firm's powerful branding. Conversely, a profile on a small firm website may vanish into obscurity as other firms, businesses and individuals vie for better positioning in search engine results.
In either situation, your personal web presence is entirely dependent on your employer. If you leave your firm, whether to strike out on your own or to look for a position elsewhere, you could see yourself effectively vanish from the web at precisely the moment when you most need to highlight your expertise and accomplishments.
The good news is that establishing a web presence independent of a firm or employer doesn't have to mean hiring an expensive web developer or spending months developing and refining content. A variety of tools have emerged that allow attorneys to establish a simple but effective web presence in minimal time, at minimal expense.
Whether your goal is to supplement an existing professional website or simply to take a first step towards defining your professional reputation online, here are four options you should consider:
If you haven't already taken the social networking plunge, consider signing up for a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is a social network focused on professional networking. On LinkedIn, you can customize your profile with detailed information on your academic background, previous employment, and professional interests and accomplishments. By doing so, your profile becomes a virtual resume or CV. It's your opportunity to shape your professional persona for employers, clients and colleagues.
One of LinkedIn's major advantages is its popularity among users. As arguably the leading professional online networking site, it receives high rankings in search engine results. Most people will find that their LinkedIn profile turns up on the first page of results from a Google search of their name.
Last year, Google launched a new feature, Google Profiles. Google profiles also serve as a way to aggregate users' online activities in a central location. For example, your Google profile might include a brief biography, your interests, and links to your firm's website, your LinkedIn profile and your Twitter account.
The reason to set up a profile is simple: users of Google will find your profile among their top results. Google search results often include a special inset box featuring "Profile results" relevant to a given search. This box appears on the first page of results. Thus, if someone searches for "John Smith," they will see a separate list of "Profile results for John Smith," in addition to the standard results. Using Google Profiles is an easy way to direct searchers to information about you that you control.
Flavors.me is a new tool that allows you to create a personal website without any technical or design expertise. You simply input your name, add a brief bio, and select the various social media and Web 2.0 sites you'd like to connect with, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. You can then customize the design of your page by selecting from a variety of pre-made layouts and color schemes. To get a sense of how Flavors.me works, you can view a quick demonstration video on the company website.
Flavors.me also offers a premium service for $20 annually that provides more design choices, allows you to set a custom domain (e.g. www. johnsmith.com) and provides detailed statistics on the people visiting your site. However, the service is new, so approach the site with some caution. For instance, some users may be uncomfortable with allowing Flavors.me to access their other social media accounts.
All of the above
Aside from time management, there's no reason to limit yourself to a single service or profile. Indeed, establishing a presence on multiple services—and linking your profiles to one another—can boost your performance in search engine results and ensure that web searchers find the information you want them to find.
A final cautionary note
While a strong personal web presence can be a boon to client development, it's essential to consult your applicable rules of professional conduct before proceeding. Any website intended to promote your abilities or accomplishments as an attorney is likely to be considered an advertisement under your jurisdiction's rules. That means that some web profile features—like the ability to list "specialties"—could be ethically problematic. You should also consult your employer's policies, which now often include specific rules regarding confidentiality and the manner in which you may represent your employer online.
This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members. Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.