Attorneys: Your LinkedIn Headline in 120 Characters or Less

You have 120 characters in your LinkedIn headline. (No, not 140. That’s Twitter.)

120 characters to sell yourself to the world. Yes, I said sell. LinkedIn is not where you find enlightenment. It is where you find clients, contacts or a job. If you are not already, you need to be crystal clear on the distinction, whether or not you like it.

Important Update in 2017: Following Microsoft’s acquisition and restructuring of LinkedIn, many of the features have changed. For example, only a portion of your headline and the first few words of your summary are visible in many cases until someone clicks to see more. This makes is critical to have the essential information that reflects your value proposition – or otherwise draws people in – right at the top. You can check this out for yourself by accessing your own profile through various devices.

So what should it say?

Should you opt for something short, try to get in as much as possible or meet somewhere in the middle? How “out there” should you be with your job search?

I hear these questions from clients every week, if not every day. One of the main goals as a résumé writer is to help my clients see how they appear to a third party, especially a potential recruiter, hiring manager/partner, interviewer or other job search facilitator. We are often so wrapped up in our own stories that we forget how we appear to the outside world.

Take a look at a range of possible headlines below, which could easily describe the same individual at various points in his/her career. Depending on how he/she wanted to be perceived, some of these headlines are clearly more effective than others.

Can you immediately tell which ones?

– Scroll down for commentary –

Capital Markets Attorney, Counsel | Derivatives | Global Funds | Dodd Frank & EMIR

ISDA/Derivatives Attorney

ISDA Attorney | Derivatives Counsel

ISDA Attorney | Derivatives Counsel | Hedge Funds

ISDA Attorney and Derivatives Counsel at [Name of Employer]

ISDA Attorney at *

ISDA Attorny [sic]

Contract Attorney

ISDA Attorney Seeking New Opportunity

Attorney Seeking a New Opportunity

Versatile & Business Savvy Senior Attorney with 20+ Years of Effectively Resolving Complex Issues and Managing Risk

Senior Business Savvy Attorney

Experienced lawyer seeking engaging legal employment

Attorney, actively seeking employment

VP, Legal

Vice President and Associate General Counsel

Associate General Counsel

Financial Transactions Attorney

Corporate Finance Professional and Attorney | Investment and Corporate Banking

Attorney | Advocate


Financial Services and Trading Counsel

ISDA Counsel and Negotiator

Experienced Derivatives Attorney and Published Novelist


Clearing, Dodd-Frank & ISDA Attorney

Fixed Income and Derivatives Attorney, Contracts Negotiator

ISDA, Prime Brokerage, Securities Lending, Repurchase, and Futures Negotiator

Derivatives Attorney

ISDA/Futures/Derivatives Attorney

Financial Transactions Attorney

Senior Derivatives/Regulatory/Capital Markets Attorney

– Commentary –

Clearly there is much more to say than I can cover in a short blog post, but here are some general thoughts to guide you:

First, consider your audience. You’ll see that I highlighted some headlines above. Two of them are “hybrid” (the last two headlines highlighted in red above) in that they straddle multiple roles – legal and writing. This can be effective if you are actually selling yourself to both audiences, and you do not believe that presenting yourself as a hybrid will do damage to your brand. It should, in fact, support your brand, because it reflects how you present yourself in daily life. Again, LinkedIn is not about self-actualization or gratification, it is about presenting yourself to the world in a professional context.

Second, an incomplete headline (or one with errors) is probably the worst thing you can do. It reflects extremely poorly on you, because it implies that you will lack attention to detail in your daily work as well. The first two highlighted headlines above display this lack of care. In the first, the attorney did not realize that LinkedIn prompted an employer, so it simply ends with “at….” (The added asterisk is mine.) In the second, the word Attorney is spelled incorrectly! I would not trust you to draft a contract to purchase a popsicle stick, let alone a multi-million dollar transaction, if you can’t even spell your headline correctly. Yes, I have actually seen typos in headlines, although more often they are in the summary or elsewhere on LinkedIn.

Third, if you have a temporary job, you are not a “temporary person.” You do not need to sum up your current employment. Instead, your headline should indicate who you are, not your present role. To that end, I would avoid a headline like “Contract Attorney” at all costs.

Fourth, don’t sound desperate. I see many headlines that announce an individual is “seeking employment,” even in some cases for individual who appear to be currently employed. While I cannot say that there is no case in which this could be appropriate, in most fields, including law, you should eliminate this from your headline. There is an old adage that it is easier to find a job when you have a job. The same applies here. As a hiring manager, I would rather hire individuals who are self-confident in who they are and what value they add than those that appear they will take the next best “new opportunity” that presents itself. Among other reasons, I would not be convinced that, once hired, the person would stay.

Fifth, don’t try a subtle, back door approach that imitates #4 above. By that I mean a headline like the following:

Versatile & Business Savvy Senior Attorney with 20+ Years of Effectively Resolving Complex Issues and Managing Risk

If you read between the lines, this person also is clearly on the job market. There are so many things wrong with this headline that I don’t even know where to start. Here are two:

(1) It has a lot of words without saying much.

(2) Words like “20+ Years of…” scream résumé, so they announce your job search. In the case of this individual – this is a real LinkedIn headline – he also has clients who may be turned off by this presentation. You are always writing to your current situation as well as your target next role (if any). The headline also screams “keywords” although it is not clear that they are the right words.

(Note: You may also not want to highlight your implied age by stating 20+ years – a separate issue that I’ll cover in another post. In the résumé business, the unwritten rule is to go with 15+ years, although there are clearly exceptions.)

Sixth, always remember keywords. While you generally don’t want your current employer to know you are looking for a new role, you also want to have a headline that describes what you do and will cause you to be located when a recruiter or other individual conducts a keyword search, if possible (even if you have no intention of leaving – who knows what dream job awaits?).

This is another reason why “seeking employment” does not help much. If you have “employment” and “attorney” in your headline, you may come up in searches for “employment attorney” but not in searches for your substantive experience (e.g., derivatives, contracts, etc.). This can be cured somewhat with a robust summary or other sections of the LinkedIn profile, but the headline is a stronger place for this identifying information.

Seventh, a difficult situation arises when you are trying to sell yourself in many ways.  Sometimes you do not want to pigeonhole yourself as a particular type of attorney, especially if you are looking to transition or branch out. This is when you should consider whether to write a “tighter” or “looser” profile, i.e., one that identifies you more as an expert in a specific area or one that paints a broader brush.

One last note about adding the name of your employer to a headline: Often it takes up valuable “prime real estate” because it is not a keyword. However, if you work at a highly recognizable and well-regarded employer – from Goldman to Google – or an emerging company or organization known for innovation or another key quality that matches with your brand, it may well be worth including part or all of the name in your headline. 

In summary, it is your headline, so you should be comfortable with it. There is no one right answer. After considering the above, also consider what your gut tells you. Would you be comfortable presenting your headline across the various audiences that will see it? Will it raise your confidence level and appropriately broadcast your professional self to the world? I suggest you take a look at your headline again with all of these hard and soft factors in mind to find the one that is right for you.

Copyright 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.


The Effectiveness of a Non-Compete that is “Subject” to an Employment Agreement: Why Legalese Isn’t Always a Waste of Time

Imagine, as I was asked recently, that you were an ex-employee of a company and attempting to determine whether you would prevail in a certain lawsuit. The situation involves a non-competition agreement (non-compete) you signed with a company, and you do not believe you should be bound by it.  The company is suing you to enforce it. The non-compete says it is “subject to an employment agreement to be completed within 30 days.” The employment agreement, in fact, was never signed.

Is the non-compete binding? In other words, is the enforceability of the non-compete subject to the existence of an executed employment agreement or are the provisions simply subject to contrary language in an employment agreement, if completed and signed within the 30-day period? Obviously, these are two conflicting interpretations of the same language, and either could be valid. A separate question would arise if an employment agreement was in fact executed, but it was done so more than 30 days after the employment agreement.

[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a diverse solo law practice, and it is one of a small number of “legacy posts” that I have retained on the site. When published, this was one of my most popular posts. Since April 2015, I have been working as an executive coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]

At the outset, there are many preliminary questions to ask before considering the potential outcome of the case, including the following:

–       In which jurisdiction was the agreement signed, and are non-competition agreements binding in the jurisdiction?

–       Was there sufficient consideration to create an enforceable agreement?

–       Is the agreement otherwise enforceable as drafted?

–       Does any other language in the agreement itself contradict the language above? For example, is there an “integration” clause that says the agreement contains the entire understanding of the parties with respect to the subject matter of the agreement?

–       What interest is the company trying to protect (e.g., confidential information, competing employment, customer lists or another restriction)

–       In what circumstance did this arise, i.e., were you fired or did you leave voluntarily?

–       Have other cases been decided in the relevant court(s) that deal with the same or a similar point?

–       Do we know anything else about the intent of the parties (you and the company) when the non-compete was signed?

–       Do other employees have non-competes with the company and are these generally enforced if violated? Do you know (or can you find out) if they contain similar language?

The questions above and others would help determine your likelihood of prevailing in the lawsuit.  Assuming the plain language of the agreement and the limited facts above, I believe you would have a strong argument that your non-compete is not an enforceable agreement, because the formation of the contract was subject to a condition that was never fulfilled, i.e., the execution of an employment agreement within 30 days. The company would counter that you were employed nonetheless, and that “subject to” language is therefore superfluous.

If this case were actually at trial, you would need to consult further with a competent attorney to determine what goals the company had in bringing the lawsuit against you and what strategy should be employed to attempt to diffuse, fight or settle the suit.

Of course, there is another crucial lesson to take away from the above scenario. When you draft a contract, you have to get the language right, and you have to do what you say you’ll do. In other words, good drafting and attentive follow-up, by you and/or your lawyer, are essential.

Lawyers often get a bad rap for focusing on “legalese” and “fine points”. However, thousands and sometimes millions of dollars are spent trying to interpret what people meant when they wrote something, and which party has the better argument that its interpretation of a clause is the correct one. While lawyers cannot foresee every situation that may arise and how to draft a “bulletproof” agreement that will withstand any dispute, experienced ones can steer you out of circumstances in which off-the-shelf or borrowed contract language turns out to be penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t assume that language you found on the Internet or that “worked” for (or was never tested by) your brother-in-law’s business in another state five years ago will work for you today.  Even language recommended by your attorney to use with a previous employer may not fit your current employment arrangement, since the circumstances may be different

Finally, if your lawyer was paying careful attention when the above (hypothetical) non-compete was drafted, you would not be in this scenario. The non-compete would have specified whether a signed employment agreement was a condition precedent to an enforceable non-compete or simply governed in the case of conflicting provisions. In addition, the employment agreement referenced would have been signed and kept on file, or the non-compete would have been amended to delete or change the reference if the employment agreement was not signed in the requisite time period.

None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship. This is a public forum. Please do not post confidential or fact-specific information regarding your legal questions on this site.

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