Your Professional Portrait Is Much More Than a Picture

Even though words are my specialty, I know that the best words in the world can be rendered meaningless if they aren’t presented in a visually compelling way.

And the most impactful visual element of them all is a great photograph.

When I started writing about attorneys in the 1980s, it was nearly impossible to find a professional photo of any lawyer who wasn’t standing in front of a bookshelf or seated behind a desk. Books and desks, apparently, conveyed gravitas and legal acumen. Thankfully, the profession and the media covering it evolved, and lawyer portraits are now as varied and interesting as the attorneys in them.

First Impressions Matter

Having a professional portrait has never been more important. Today, most attorneys make their first impressions online rather than face-to-face, so the photo that accompanies a lawyer’s online presence is their first chance to impress prospective clients, employers and referral sources. A professional portrait is useful in multiple places, including:

  • Website bios
  • Social media profiles, especially LinkedIn
  • Online lawyer directories, such as Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell
  • “About the Author” bios (for published articles and blog posts)
  • Speaking engagements

Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of lawyer portraits and worked with several photographers. And the one who has consistently impressed me is Vanessa Gavalya. Her portraits manage to convey equal parts warmth, professionalism, humor and intelligence.

‘Wear What Makes You Feel Successful’

If you’ve ever seen a copy of D Magazine’s Best Lawyers in Dallas issue, you’ve probably admired Vanessa’s work. She’s shot just about every well-known lawyer in Dallas – and made them look gorgeous. Scroll through her Portraits page and you’ll see more than a few familiar faces (including several non-legal celebrities such as George Strait).

A former model herself, Vanessa’s gift is making her subjects comfortable enough to relax in front of the camera. I asked her a few questions about her craft:

  1. Your lawyer portraits are always professional but never stodgy. What’s your secret? I like to show you how a person feels inside. The lawyers I photograph tend to have a lot of personality and that’s what people love to see. A picture is like the meeting before the first meeting. The shoot should be a fun part of the day. All I’m doing is figuring out how I can show them off to the world.
  2. I’m sure you get this question all the time: What to wear? Lawyers who wear clothes that fit well are the easiest to photograph. My advice is to wear what makes you feel successful. Try things on a couple weeks before the shoot if possible. Take the time to get things tailored if needed. If you feel good about what you’re wearing, it tends to carry through in the photograph. I love it when a group of attorneys are somewhat coordinated in attire. Perhaps everyone wears a touch of pastel or the group wears jewel-toned accents.
  3. For those lawyers who don’t yet have the budget to hire a professional photographer, what are your tips for taking a nice portrait (assuming they have a friend or neighbor with a decent camera)? If you don’t have much of a photo budget, try to get a group of other friends who need pictures on the same day. Photographers will discount when there are multiple people to photograph. If budget is still a concern, find beautiful light and shoot a lot of pictures.

Having a top-rate photo may have been an afterthought when bookshelves and coffin-sized desks were seemingly the only props available, but those days are long gone. When people go looking for you online, they’re looking for the person you see in the mirror. One of the first steps to put your best foot forward is to include a quality portrait that shows the real you.

Amy Boardman Hunt began her career in legal journalism and has been in legal marketing and public relations since 1997. When she’s not helping lawyers grow their business, she’s trying to find someone to go hiking with her. She can be reached at amy.hunt@muselegalpr.com.




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