In many conversations over the past months, I heard common themes from CMOs, managers and teams. Often I’ve been asked “how are my colleagues in other firms handling this?”. To help answer these questions and share insights across the profession, over 200 colleagues responded to our survey which was conducted between May 13 - 22, 2020. Thank you to all who participated.
Here’s what we learned:
People are working longer hours during COVID-19
We’ve all seen dozens of social media posts and news stories discussing the challenges of working while isolated at home. This has included surviving endless Zoom meetings, supervising dependents and making sense of the world around us. So how is this impacting our work hours?
Some key questions for our profession:
Marketing and BD are focused on ‘protecting the base’
Marketing and BD teams are famous for wearing multiple hats in any given day. Responding to pitches and RFPs, organizing events, executing on business goals, planning ways to enhance and sustain existing relationships... this list never stops. Given this context, when asked to share the major focus areas for the marketing and BD team during the COVID-19 response, the respondents answered as follows:
The trend among survey respondents is highlighting an emphasis on externally facing initiatives. They appear to be “protecting the base” by providing support and knowledge to existing clients and taking next steps on already defined strategic business development plans. Comparatively less focus has been applied to marketing to new clients, implementing new initiatives or responding to RFPs.
Old teams, new tricks?
Many discussions with firms early in the pandemic response considered how marketing and BD teams could use their transferable skills to support other teams (at the expense of traditional marketing and BD activity).
There are a number of takeaways from this data:
Our colleagues prefer working from home
For years, we have heard a growing number of colleagues talk about wanting more flexibility in their professional lives, with the option of working remotely (or at home) for at least some of the time. COVID-19 has pressure tested this working model in ways few of us could have imagined. Close to three months in, our survey respondents have indicated their preferred working styles:
It will be interesting to see whether these rates persist if current restrictions continue for months (or years). Anecdotally - and supported by the data above relating to working hours - it would seem that productivity has not dropped despite teams working from home. This has long been a concern of firms considering more flexible working arrangements. One unexpected benefit from these challenging times has been this ‘case study’ in working from home. I’m sure this will lead to a lot of consideration for ‘the office of the future’ for law firms.
Recruiting practices should be evaluated at regular intervals. They should be relevant to the professional being interviewed and responsive to the market.
Here are three recruiting practices that should be overhauled when recruiting senior marketing and BD professionals into your firms. “Senior” here means the marketing and BD professionals who spend the majority of their time on strategy and management, namely, Manager, Senior Manager, Director and CMO.
Consider these alternatives:
Recruiting the senior marketing and BD professionals that are the right fit for both firm and individual is a challenge for any CMO or marketing team leader. Having the right process in place makes this much easier. It also makes you and your team and firm look qualified to be hiring the senior professional that you are.
Reputable economic commentators are predicting an uncertain economic market in the US for the coming year. Whether this results in volatility, slow down or a recession, it will impact professional services marketing and BD team leaders.
Firms will either see the uncertain market as a time to double down on marketing efforts, and look to their marketing and BD teams to be providing client-advancing and value-adding strategic support and guidance to get ahead. Or, they will scrutinize their marketing and BD teams, seeing the uncertain market as a time to react and cut cost-related positions (despite their remit to increase business).
In either case, the marketing and BD team is susceptible as the pressure mounts ("stepping up or stepping out"). Managing, retaining, sustaining, growing and then elevating your team has never been of greater importance.
A small time investment up front will ensure you have done all that you can, regardless of where the economy goes in 2020. Take the time now to put into place these six best practices to help recession-proof your team:
Good marketing and BD team leaders will have one, maybe two, of these best practices in place. In this market, in this economy, and in this moment in time, consider increasing that count to all six points above to safeguard your biggest investment: your people.
Let’s talk about the problem with titles in legal marketing.
Many legal marketers take pride in their title as they can accurately reflect technical proficiency, seniority and credibility. There are, however, many examples where this is unfortunately not the case. This presents a tricky dilemma for many team leaders.
For example, is the experience of a legal marketer who holds the title of Business Development Director and who has 25 years of tenure the same as a legal marketer who holds the same title, but who has less tenure? Are the technical demands of a legal marketer who holds the title Senior Manager in a global firm the same as a Senior Manager in a mid-sized firm? Is a legal marketer who holds the title of Director and who manages a team of five in a mid-sized firm more or less qualified than a Director of a team of three in a large firm?
The problem is that there are no standardized rules that are applicable when determining what titles should be used when labeling legal marketers. This really matters because labels are truly just that. They stay with that professional throughout their whole career and people frequently judge others based on those labels. This is despite legal marketers all having different experience in variously sized firms and roles.
Further, layer onto this problem these two additional nuances. First, partners’ understanding about what titles are applicable at each level of a legal marketer is greatly different in each firm. This is because there is still a large variance on what partners think of and perceive marketing and BD roles to be in their firms; they have all started from a different place on the value of marketing. Secondly, firms are not always getting title-to-salary or title-to-experience information correct when making hiring decisions.
The need for standardization
I’ve asked two legal marketing veterans and CMOs to weigh in: John Byrne and Trish Lilley. Byrne and Lilley each have 30 years of experience leading marketing and BD teams in law firms. Additionally, both have held multiple leadership roles within LMA and currently lead their respective regions, the Midwest and Northeast respectively. Byrne is the CMO of Chicago firm Gould & Ratner and Lilley is the CMO of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan headquartered out of New York City.
Byrne agrees that many small, well-intentioned decisions on titles can lead to a confusing result: “Titles are always a bit of alchemy, especially in larger departments.” He adds “Any CMO wants to be able to build their department the way that it makes the most sense. But often internal processes and policies, and pay ranges, get in the way. Marketing pay ranges are often compared to other departments within the same firm.”
Lilley similarly shares this view: ”There’s a huge need for standardization in this area within legal marketing and business development”. She continues “While we (department heads/team leaders) can craft our own schemata within our firms, we face a dilemma when hiring because there is no uniformity relating to titles and roles across the industry. This makes the candidate assessment and getting stage of recruiting much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it should be, and that inefficiency often flows into the interview stage of the process as well.”
These comments go to the heart of addressing the lack of standardization that legal marketing leaders are faced with when hiring and building their teams. While the default is to compare and contrast on titles across the industry, when there is no uniformity on titles generally, this task is problematic.
The need for internal differentiation
In addition to the lack of standardization in legal marketing titles, I also frequently see team leaders struggle to deal with how to differentiate their existing team members to distinguish them and reward them based on their efforts and contributions.
Both Lilley and Byrne also weighed in on this difficult task.
Byrne talked about the limitations within the current structure of titles as we know them. He stated that “there are issues with layering people when they need to move up, but the titles don’t always help that if someone is already a Director, say.”
He continued on to acknowledge how tricky that really is, as these issues impact both the person you’re trying to change the title for to acknowledge their efforts, and then for the other people in the team who may feel slighted because of any title changes around them. He said that in practice what typically happens is that “the title can be the same, but the salary, bonus and raises are far different” for different team members. External people to that team or firm, however, won’t see this internal recognition.
Lilley shared her vantage point on how to adequately structure different team members’ titles, noting the difficulties with more junior legal marketers: “I do think that the greatest disparities and variations we in hiring roles see across positions are found in the ranks of coordinators and specialists. I have come across both very junior specialists and those so senior that they left those roles to take first-chair and/or client-facing positions at other firms. Coordinators and specialists are both non-exempt at certain firms and both exempt at others.”
This is a practical side effect of wrongly labeled professionals. They have to then explain their moves when seeking external advancement so they can be understood and placed into a certain title bucket that makes sense to the person hiring. And this works well if those buckets are neatly defined; unfortunately, that is often not the case.
Practical takeaways for team leaders to move forward
There are no easy answers to these issues. And proposing significant changes to these issues will of course take time to take effect and create the meaningful change that is needed.
Having said that, there are some takeaways that Lilley and Byrne shared that can help us all in the meantime:
For further consideration…
I’ll also add these five thoughts for your further consideration, especially when hiring professionals into your team.
Legal marketing titles can be accurate or they can be misleading. While we are all in this existing structure together, implement these takeaways to ensure greater consistency for our legal marketing professionals. They work hard and deserve a correctly labeled title and recognition from their peers and leaders.
On August 8, 2019 I co-presented on the topic of advancing your career in legal marketing with Clare Ota. Together we discussed the various careers in legal marketing, what skills are essential in these roles, career road-maps, the role of a mentor, annual reviews, the salary history ban, and more. This presentation was to the West Region of the Legal Marketing Association and was aimed at all levels, from junior to mid level to seniors in the marketing and business development space.
Here is a recap of this program - which never takes the place for attending in person, but David Juarez does a great job in this recap: https://www.legalmarketing.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=5808
As featured in Attorney at Work on July 17, 2019
A checklist to use before your search begins.
Sooner or later, all firms find themselves asking whether they should hire a marketing or business development professional — closely followed by “how” to hire and whom.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the five factors that signal your firm and partners are ready to hire someone. Typically, it’s the realization that the firm’s growth has stalled and the current working model actually hinders growth.
Now let’s talk about how to find that professional.
How Do You Identify the Right Person? Three Elements.
Experience has taught me that no single criterion will determine the “right” match, but common patterns often emerge. Over time, I’ve developed a framework based on what I know law firms value. Here are three key elements.
1. Organizational Cultural Fit
It’s always essential to test technical expertise. But organizational and cultural fit is more important. At its core, cultural fit is about ensuring all of your professionals share the values your firm and leadership have established. Put simply, it’s “the way things get done around here.” For some firms, that means hiring entrepreneurial professionals in an environment that encourages creativity and risk-taking. For some, it means hiring professionals who thrive on competition in a driven and hierarchical environment. Each firm is different, so each hire will be different.
Cultural fit is hard to incorporate into a formal interview. To properly consider whether the values of the candidate match those of your firm, create situations where the candidate is more relaxed and make sure the person conducting the interview is armed with the right questions.
People choose to stay at firms because of the cultural fit and the right leadership at the top. Technical knowledge is simpler to identify, and gaps are more quickly resolved through training.
How senior and involved in the business will this professional be? There are four levels for the professional you’ll consider hiring.
3. Recruiting Strategy
You may not realize it, but your recruiting strategy affects your firm’s reputation and how the industry responds when you’re searching. Think about how long it should take to run a search, who should be involved in the process, and how people will engage with the candidates along the journey.
Marketing and business development professionals do have the reputation of typically changing jobs frequently. Senior marketing and BD folks will seek out roles with more authority, empowerment and strategy. For mid-level professionals, what’s important to them when they move relates more to the culture, firm leadership and a firm’s tendency to promote from within, as well as title advancement. For juniors, it’s typically all about promotion and work-life integration.
Against this backdrop, we’re experiencing extreme competition in the legal profession and a 50-year-low unemployment rate. Handling your first search well and hiring correctly will help you avoid headaches and preserve your reputation as a well-run and progressive firm.
Specialist knowledge, professionalism, transparency, proactiveness, deadline-driven; these things are, in my experience, critical to a successful search. Failed searches have at least one and often most of these elements missing from a sound recruiting strategy.
It is a challenge to make the decision to hire and then find the right marketing or BD professional for your firm. Before you hire, consider this checklist:
And remember, this is a defining, exciting and precedent-setting time for your firm. Getting it right is far more important than quickly checking it off your list.
As featured in Attorney at Work on June 27, 2019
The marketing and business development function in law firms is an established, credible business service. Unless a firm acquires a marketing department as part of a merger, these departments are built — carefully and thoughtfully — over time. But many smaller firms operate without one until someone realizes the firm’s growth is curtailed because fee-earners are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. Sooner or later, all firms — even solo practices — find themselves asking “when” they know the time has come to hire a marketing or BD professional, closely followed by “how” do I hire and whom.
This is the first in a two-part piece addressing these questions.
Signs Its the Right Time to Hire
If you are answering “yes” to one or more of these five factors, then it’s likely time to embark on hiring your first marketing or BD professional:
Having identified the need to build a marketing or BD function, it’s important to avoid some common missteps in implementing that plan:
1. Confusing marketing and business development
Many firm leaders do not understand the difference between marketing and BD. Many firms also define these functions very differently. Know where you need the most assistance and name it according to your specific needs and firm. For example, heavy-hitting BD activities include:
On the other hand, duties typically associated with the marketing function include:
2. Asking for too little or too much experience
Understand the level of seniority you need for this position and overall function. Do partners need to be guided and coached on this function (which indicates a more senior strategist) or do they need help in executing on their already identified goals (which suggests a mid-level professional)?
3. Writing and unrealistic job description
When writing the job description, think about how you want to prioritize responsibilities. A common failing is writing the entire marketing or BD function in one job description, rather than one well-considered role that meets immediate needs, from which you can grow.
4. Lack of strategy
Think about your recruiting strategy. Do you know enough about the role to identify the right candidates? What are the most important qualifications? Prior experience? Technical expertise? Cultural fit?
You Can't Know What You Don't Know
The danger lies in attempting to build a marketing or BD team despite a lack of experience with the field. Avoid missteps by seeking advice from those experienced with defining and recruiting the right marketing and BD team for a firm like yours. At the same time, ask peers to share what they’ve learned in building out their departments.
I add this for your consideration: Marketing and BD professionals provide a different way to grow the firm, both through existing and new streams of revenue. They are not restricted by a finite number of billable hours. They are professionals focused on building relationships who will supplement your lawyers and who have the liberty of taking a long-term view of the firm to achieve — and hopefully, exceed — its strategic goals.
Armed with the knowledge that the timing is right to hire a marketing or BD professional, how do you go about looking for the right candidates? Stay tuned for part two.
(Last reviewed and updated on August 7, 2019)
If you’re a hiring manager in a firm, what does that mean for you with the numerous cities and states that are now impacted by the new salary history bans?
Below I set out the three key things you must do as a hiring manager to ensure compliance with the new laws. But first, know which new geographies have been recently added to the list: Kansas City, Washington state, Colorado and Maine.
Here is a list of the affected geographies for firms:
An important note: the following geographies currently only affect city or state employers. So, not firms. However, precedent would suggest that best practices should be followed as if it did impact your firm; over time similar bans could also be enacted which will impact more than just city or state employees:
As a hiring manager, here’s what you need to do:
Your firm leadership should be standing on the right side of this issue. Your clients and prospective employees will care. Get on the front foot to establish yourself as an employer who is actively addressing these issues.
(NOTE: This article is not to be taken as legal advice. The author is not a practicing attorney, nor does the author purport to be. For any legal question or issue related to these topics in your state or city, you should seek advice from a practicing attorney.)
“I hire for cultural fit. It’s the most important thing to me. How do I test for that?”
Every one of my clients talks about the importance of organizational cultural fit when they add new BD and marketing professionals into their teams. It is one of the first things they tell me when we talk about a potential hire.
Consideration for an organizational cultural fit is one of the hardest pieces to be successful on when hiring a BD or marketing professional; or, in fact, any professional. What exactly is cultural fit and how do you successfully hire a professional who is culturally aligned to your firm?
Cultural fit is hard to define. At its core, it’s about ensuring all of your professionals share the same beliefs and values that your firm and leadership have established; put simply, it’s “the way things get done around here”. In some firms, it means hiring entrepreneurial professionals in an environment that encourages creativity and risk-taking. In some firms, it means hiring professionals who thrive on competition in a driven and hierarchical environment. In some firms, it means hiring professionals with a more formal and conservative style in a firm where convention and tradition is key. Importantly, each firm is different, so each hire will be different.
Before we address “what” to ask, the “how” is key. Adjusting how you interview (see my previous blog on this topic) and really doing away with an overly formal process allows you and your candidate the opportunity to speak, listen and share. People are unique individuals who have points of view, stories to tell, a particular type of sense of humor, and different perspectives to relate on work and life. Getting into these things allows you to really see what a person is like. The technical questions need to be asked, of course. But then cultural questions - like these below - help you consider whether you are culturally aligned:
“I’m a solo marketer at a small firm and I’m hungry for the ‘big law’ experience. What do I need to be aware of with this career move?”
I love working with solo marketing and BD professionals who come from smaller firms. Why? They are typically resourceful, relationship-minded and client-centric professionals. They have also had to be solutions-focused in an environment with minimal marketing and BD leadership, and with little to no resources under and around them.
But I find some of the small firm solo marketing professionals in my network feel that they may not have what it takes to go up against their bigger firm peers. And yet, many big law firms seek out skills unique to smaller firm candidates.
There are certainly pros and cons to working in both small and large firms. As an eternal optimist, I focus on the pros, but I am aware of the cons. After this, my best advice to the solo marketers seeking a bigger firm is to leverage the things that make you different to your competition (not the things that make you the same). Firms like different. They embrace that perspective and seek it out. And, if you are a great cultural fit for them, then it often does not matter what size of firm you are coming from.
As a person who spent her early years in smaller firms before also getting hungry to work in the bigger firms, consider this as you contemplate your ‘big law’ move:
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.