Beware the Seven Deadly Sins of Attorney Bios

Forget flashy advertising, catchy taglines or firm logo Frisbees. The professional biography is the paramount piece in any attorney’s marketing arsenal.

In law, the people are the product, and no other marketing communications vehicle can convey the depth of an attorney’s experience and qualifications. Over the past 12 years, I have worked with more than 800 attorneys and have seen how clients use bios to assess how credible and hireable law firms are. Indeed, more than 80% of in-house counsel use lawyer bios to research new providers, according to the 2016 Canadian Digital Legal Survey.

It’s unfortunate, then, that so many bios stagnate with outdated information and neglect the needs of the end user. Attorneys who want to maximize the effectiveness of their bios – and their ability to connect with prospective clients – should work to avoid the seven deadly sins of lawyer bios:

1. Listing Stale Or Incorrect Information

This is the least forgivable bio offense; if you have outdated information on your bio, you can sell yourself short, appear out-of-touch or mislead your readers. Fortunately, it’s also the easiest to correct. Check your bio at least once a year for simple accuracy by reviewing the following:

  • Title
  • Court admissions
  • Extracurriculars
  • Publications
  • Presentations
  • Awards
  • Firm leadership positions

2. Telling, Not Showing

Consider these two bios:

  • “Lex Luthor is an accomplished litigator who is well-known for his success in jurisdictions across the country.”
  • “Clark Kent has an exceptional track record in litigation nationwide. Accomplishments include a defense verdict for an agribusiness company in Missouri, a $5.6 million verdict for an accident victim in Georgia and the dismissal of a class action for a manufacturer in Utah.”

In the second one, examples enhance credibility and provide evidence to back your claims. Of course, privilege is critical, but share what your client permits and link to articles and decisions. Demonstrate that you are a safe choice.

For the rest of the Deadly Sins – and ways to stay on the path of bio righteousness – check out the rest of my piece in Forbes.

“Don’t Eat Your Weed”: A Case Study in Content That Blazes

Today is International Marijuana Day, so we’ve been told – a fine time to revisit a favorite piece of lawyer content marketing: “Don’t Eat Your Weed,” a folk song by the Texas-based firm of Hutson & Harris.

Content marketing is such a powerful marketing tool; it can build your reputation, cement your credentials and provide prospects with a sample of your style. It’s also hard to do right, especially in the legal arena: There’s a lot of competition, and there’s a lot of dry subject matter. You’re not likely to differentiate yourself with an article that’s a clone of 74 other Supreme Court updates.

Not all of us are blessed with country music chops or salty subject matter, but “Don’t Eat Your Weed” exemplifies principles of great content marketing that can be applied across the industry. Will Hutson and Chris Harris crafted this fun little earworm of a song around the basic facts that:

  • If you are in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, it’s a class B misdemeanor.
  • You can make it significantly harder on yourself if you try to alter, conceal or destroy it; then it becomes a felony.

Why it works:

  • It’s helpful. It provides useful, practical knowledge to the firm’s target base of potential criminal defendants. It’s not about the firm at all. It’s not a song about how great Hutson and Harris are. It’s valuable information.
  • It’s memorable. Fair warning: This song stays with you for days. Viewers may not remember “Hutson & Harris,” but you can easily imagine someone Googling “Don’t Eat Your Weed” months after watching the video.
  • It’s approachable. Hutson and Harris don’t cite a bunch of statutes. They use concise language (“tampering with evidence/ doesn’t make any sense”) and don’t get hung up on jargon.
  • It has personality. Social media is social, after all. People share content that is human, engaging and funny. These guys smile and laugh, and they seem to actually like each other and their jobs. It’s winsome.
  • It seamlessly provides contact information and a call-to-action. Our troubadours have their phone number and website listed at the bottom of the video; they make it easy to find them. And there’s an elegant lyrical promotion woven in: “It’s just a misdemeanor / you can hire a cleaner / to get it off your record.”

To date, the video has more than 400,000 views. Kudos to this firm for trying something new, putting in the work to make it work, and above all, making “there’s a kind of probation / called deferred adjudication” so catchy.

(Note: This is not a Firesign client; we don’t know these guys, but we’d like to.)

What I Saw at the Revolution: Lessons in Legal Artificial Intelligence

I’m writing this from 39,000 feet, flying home after the annual Legal Marketing Association convention in Las Vegas. More than 1,200 legal marketers convened to learn, share and connect, and much of this year’s buzz focused on how technology will shape the future of law. Pardon the pun, but I’m still processing all of the possibilities.

I was honored to moderate one of two panels on Artificial Intelligence in the legal context. Our panel included Bob Beach of Nexlaw Partners, a technology expert with a master’s degree in computer science; Patrick Fuller of Neota Logic, who has counseled firms on how to deploy data in competitive intelligence and operations; and Steve Fletcher, the chief information officer at Best Best & Krieger, a 200-person firm in California.

A few takeaways from our discussion:

  • “Artificial Intelligence” doesn’t mean asking Skynet to draft all of your petitions, and it doesn’t have to be scary. It can mean automating routine processes like regulatory forms, so lawyers are freed up to focus on more complex and strategic work. One example is Foley & Lardner’s Global Risk Solutions, which was designed to help middle-market companies comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
  • Steve’s firm is working on its first AI project now – an app that will provide guidance on certain California regulations. It’s a great example of collaboration between a firm’s Marketing and IT departments: Steve saw a paper client guide on the topic and asked if it could be automated. He advocates bringing the marketing and IT teams together to daydream – a cool, powerful idea.
  • Patrick shared that AI projects can stimulate cross-selling within a firm. Lawyers can be hesitant to cross-sell another practice area to clients if they are unsure about their peers’ delivery or billing habits. An AI project like Foley’s can help them overcome that hesitation – the product is uniform, easy to demo and predictably priced.
  • AI can also help attract new clients; an app with a straightforward subscription fee might convert some prospects who were price-sensitive or averse to the billable hour.
  • AI also can help law firms capture attorney knowledge. If a lawyer’s specific experience in a regulatory process is put into a decision tree in app form, that app stays with the firm even if the lawyer leaves or retires.
  • We talked about how marketers can get buy-in for an AI project:
    • Work with the IT department to identify the possibility of shared resources, team and budget. Present a unified front of marketing and tech.
    • Make a prototype (even if it’s just an illustration in PowerPoint) so lawyers can see how it will look and function – that makes it more real than just a concept.
    • Show that the AI project isn’t taking away work the firm would otherwise bill for – it should create revenue, not cannibalize it.
    • Gather some attorney champions who will be excited about the possibilities for their practice.
  • Whether it’s a simple form app or Ross, the “digital attorney,” AI brings efficiency and fundamental change. Allen & Overy, for example, created an AI system that takes the time needed to draft a banking document from three hours to three minutes. If you’re an associate who is compensated on billable hours, this is scary stuff – law firms must adjust compensation models to account for the new reality.

Ultimately, as Bob said, it’s important to remember that clients aren’t asking for AI for AI’s sake; they want you to solve their problems faster, better, cheaper and more proactively. AI may be one way to help, but as with all legal marketing, we can’t be doing it for ourselves. We have to know the clients’ actual problems first, then look for enlightened solutions.

The Legal Watercooler covered the first AI panel of the convention here.

Firesign and DriveThru Branding Launch Firm Foundation

Innovative Process Brands Law Firms in Two Weeks

FAIRWAY, Kan. and NEW YORK, March 15, 2017 — Firesign and DriveThru Branding today announced their new collaboration, Firm Foundation, a process built to deliver law firm brand guides in just two weeks.

A law firm’s brand is among the most important hiring factors, but the traditional branding process can be cumbersome and time-consuming, leading many law firms to neglect it, said Katherine Hollar Barnard, CEO of Firesign.

Barnard said Firesign, a marketing agency that specializes in the legal industry, wanted to help law firms brand in a straightforward way. This sparked an alliance with DriveThru Branding, which provides fast, affordable brand strategy to startups and small businesses. Together, Firesign and DriveThru Branding crafted Firm Foundation, a branding process that addresses the unique aspects of the business of law, including jurisdiction and ethical considerations.

Firm Foundation uses a three-phased approach focused on efficiency:

  • Discovery: A law firm completes a set of questions about its work, clientele and style.
  • Work Session: Within ten days, the firm receives a draft brand guide and participates in a one-hour work session to refine it.
  • Deployment: Four days later, the firm receives a final brand guide and instructions for moving forward.

The brand guide includes the firm’s elevator pitch, brand story, tone and style, guidelines for visual presentation and a review for ethical compliance. Law firms pay a fixed fee based on size.

“Branding is the foundation of how firms connect with clients,” said Barnard. “It’s crucial, but it shouldn’t have to be painful.”

Susan Solomon, founder of DriveThru Branding, has deployed the two-week model for a variety of clients, including The High Line, Give Lively and WeFestival. She said she looks forward to bringing it to the legal arena.

“We know traditional branding agencies aren’t designed for time-crunched lawyers,” Solomon said. “Firm Foundation is.”

For more information about Firm Foundation, visit

About Firesign:

Firesign helps attorneys attract, win and retain business. We build brands that connect and business plans that deliver for law firms and legal industry clients nationwide. For more information, visit

About DriveThru Branding:

DriveThru Branding provides fast, affordable brand strategy services to startups and small businesses. DriveThru’s Fortune 500 brand strategists provide action-oriented brand guides in two weeks. For more information, visit

How Roller Derby Prepared Me to Be An Entrepreneur

Two of the brand cornerstones here at Firesign are confidence and intelligence. My time with Fountain City Roller Derby is an example of these principles in action: I had the confidence to earn my Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor badge, and I had the intelligence to know I wasn’t bout-ready.

These days, Miranda Rights (my derby alter ego) is inactive, save the occasional wRECk League workout, but I find that much of what I learned in derby applies every day in business. I detailed my eight-wheel education for Enterprise Marketer. Highlights:

Time is your most precious resource, and your choices on how to spend it will have consequences. Every week, there were up to four derby practices. Each one meant leaving my family, missing a girls’ night, skipping a professional event. I tried to go once a week, which wasn’t enough to be safe and skilled. My peers lapped me, sometimes literally. I realized I didn’t love derby enough to sacrifice other parts of my life. Understand you can’t do it all, make some choices, and let go.

Have an ally – and be one. It’s called the derby wife – someone who will have your back, someone you’re excited to see, someone who will keep things in perspective. My derby wife inspires me, she makes me laugh, and she knows the difference between stress tears (give me space) and busted-kneecap tears (get help). Allies make you better. Choose a good friend, and be a good friend. Celebrate each other. But be prepared to…

Tackle with integrity. No cheap hits. Know the rules, know the etiquette, and do it right – navigate difficult situations with commitment, straightforwardness and class. It’s not personal. You can play to win without throwing elbows.

Falling is learning. Get back up, and think about how you could avoid it next time. (A fellow “freshie” introduced herself in our Facebook group by saying “I’m the one who falls all the time and takes the longest to get up.” One veteran’s response: “You mean the one who learns the most and gets up every time.” I love that.) Know how to fall, too – fast, smart and small.

Starting a firm takes fortitude and guts, and I’m bolstered every day by the derby experience (even if I don’t miss the bruises). If you have passed a test that involves taking hits and getting your wheels bumped out underneath you, you can handle anything. As I wrote in Enterprise Marketer, confidence comes from having tried something hard, silly and wonderful; knowing I am fast; remembering that I can give tackles, get tackles, fall down and get up.

And it never hurts to have a mean shoulder-blade block.

In the News: Thinking Bigger Shares Firesign Launch

Thinking Bigger Business Media, a Kansas City publisher that focuses on the entrepreneurial community, shared the news of our launch in a lovely post.

Legal marketing veteran Katherine Hollar Barnard has opened Firesign, a new virtual agency to help attorneys nationwide attract, win and retain business … Firesign’s approach of “enlightened legal marketing” will help law firms and legal industry clients with firm strategy, brand and identity, business development, client programs, online marketing, and crisis and change.

Firesign is honored to be a part of this local community of entrepreneurs, with its robust support system and pioneer spirit. As the t-shirt says, Kansas City is for hustlers.

KC Business Journal Reports on Firesign Launch

True story: In 2001, I graduated from college and went to work as a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal. One day I was assigned to write short profiles of some women entrepreneurs for a new section, Women Who Mean Business.

I interviewed two or three women who had started their own companies — and I thought “How cool is that?”

Sixteen years later, after some unexpected twists and turns, the Kansas City Business Journal wrote about my new company. And “cool” is one word for it, but “gobsmacked” or “thrilled” works, too.

“It’s the culmination of a long-term dream and some serendipitous opportunity,” Barnard said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time and I will have the chance to work with some very talented people on some new initiatives for legal marketing.”

Two-Time Am Law 200 CMO Sparks a New Agency: Firesign

FAIRWAY, Kan., Feb. 22, 2017 – Legal marketing veteran Katherine Hollar Barnard today announced the launch of a new agency, Firesign, that will help attorneys attract, win and retain business.

Barnard, most recently the chief marketing officer at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, said she was inspired to launch Firesign to address friction between lawyers and the clients they serve.

“The legal profession is crucial to protecting justice, civility and innovation, but there is significant discontent on both sides of the service,” she said. “‘Attorney’ ranks among the unhappiest jobs in America, while 60 percent of clients would not recommend their law firm to a friend.

“I believe both sides deserve better, and I want to help.”

Firesign’s approach of “enlightened legal marketing” extends throughout its service offerings, which include branding and positioning, business development and client retention. For lawyers, the ultimate results will be stronger client relationships, greater income stability and more enjoyable work, Barnard said; for their clients, more effective business discussions, more empathy in representation and more satisfying service.

From its headquarters in metropolitan Kansas City, Firesign can serve law firms and legal industry clients nationwide, Barnard said.

In an industry with a reputation for one-size-fits-all marketing, Firesign’s founder distinguished herself with work lauded for creativity and results. As CMO at Shook and Lathrop & Gage, she led the business development and marketing communications teams. At Lathrop, she created the firm’s client feedback program and initiated its agribusiness industry group. Her rebranding efforts at Shook earned “Best Identity” from the Legal Marketing Association’s Midwest chapter. During her tenure at both firms, her departments brought in nine figures of new business.

Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership LLC and the former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, described Barnard as “a natural treasure” who connects with the lawyers she serves and the clients they represent.

“In my world – the world of in-house counsel – trusted relationships are everything,” Hackett said. “Katie is the person with the people skills to build relationships that build success.”

About Firesign

Firesign helps attorneys attract, win and retain business. We build brands that connect and business plans that deliver for law firms and legal industry clients nationwide. For more information, visit