Law Firm Management: Put Me In Coach!

Put Me In Coach!

I remember meeting and having a lovely conversation with a Marketing Partner who attended the Legal Marketing Association annual conference in Denver a few years ago.  He attended with his senior marketer, a very good friend of mine for many years.   I’ll call my friend Mark because, well, that is his name.

I was asked by the Marketing Partner what the biggest challenge was for marketers in law firms.  I looked at my friend, and asked him if it was okay to be frank.

It was obvious his Marketing Partner was at the conference to learn, so I was happy to share as long as it didn’t put Mark in an uncomfortable position.

Mark  gave me the nod, and a slight smile as if to encourage me, so I went on to share what I’ve witnessed happening in some law firms over the years.

I shared:

“There are marketers out there that are dying to be utilized to their full potential.  They’ve been hired as Managers, Directors, CMOs, Chief Strategic Officers, you name it, to provide sound strategic marketing advice, and many firms are not letting them.

Many law firms are run by committees that sometimes don’t have time for marketing on this month’s agenda, causing your marketers to have to wait until next month’s marketing committee meeting to get approval, sometimes missing out on opportunities.”

The Marketing Partner was curious, and nodded his head as if to say he understood.  I don’t think I shared the following, but I will now.

I’m all for committees in law firms as they help facilitate the business structure of a partnership.  After all, partnerships need meetings to discuss, promote, brainstorm, strategize, vote and sound off about topics of importance, correct?  Absolutely.

Here’s the challenge:  In some firms, this committee structure can be downright stifling to the growth of your marketing efforts, your firm growth and your marketing staff.

Allow me to explain.   Many of your clients have marketing departments that are led by a senior marketer that has been hired to do his/her job swiftly, strategically, wisely, economically and with the best interest of the strategic plan in mind.  This often means that decisions that cost tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars must be made every day in order to take advantage of market timing. That’s not to say they are left to take their budgets on a joy ride, and are making decisions in isolation….far from it.

I’ve been in this position.  I was a Marketing Manager at Time Warner Cable for nearly 10 years.  I wasn’t even the senior marketer at that time, but at no time was it unclear to me what my charge was because I was a part of the business and marketing planning process.  It was my job.

Marketing was looked to as a key driver of my division’s business growth.  We were looked to as decision makers.  We had a CEO that knew he would lose his job if cash flow wasn’t met too many years in a row.  After all, we were a public company, so the shareholder was king.  That meant the Marketing Department was on the hot seat, too.  Was that scary?  A little.  Was that empowering?  Absolutely!

I know this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but there is still much to learn from how your clients conduct business.   How is this relevant, and what might you do to improve your situation?

If you aren’t already, you, as a Management or Marketing Partner, or Administrator, would be well-served to treat your marketers as a part of your business team as well.

Among other things:

  • Hire marketers and business development experts that you have confidence in.  If you aren’t sure how to shop for the skills I described above, hire someone who does.  It’s that important.
  • If you have a marketer in place who doesn’t appear to have the skills they need to be considered a key component of the strategic business and marketing planning process of your firm, find out what’s missing, and help them gain those skills.  Yes, this might take time if you want to keep that person, but you need to help him/her grow if you want them to make a difference.
  • Give your marketers a seat at the management table.  They should be a part of key business decisions that are taking place at your firm.
  • Encourage them to participate.  I can still remember when I started as an in-house legal marketer, and was told by one person that I should know it was a “privilege” to even be “allowed” to attend a certain monthly management meeting, and to not say a word during that meeting, but just sit there and observe….not just once, but on an ongoing basis.  Yes, you read that right.  I was put in my place right from the beginning.  Please don’t do that to your marketers, or to anyone on your staff.  It stifles their creativity, decision-making skills, and insults their intelligence.
  • Make sure they see and understand the financials.  It helps create a sense of ownership which will help guide their decisions.  The accounting for law firms sessions shouldn’t be the best-attended sessions at conferences.  You have people in the firm who can help bring them up to speed if they need it.
  • Ask them their opinions when it comes to how the business of the firm is run.
  • Understand that they are interested in doing much more than event planning.  They are dying to be a part of what makes the firm tick.
  • Help them feel safe in the knowledge that they can come to you with ideas, suggestions, feedback, strategy, market opportunities and concerns, and that you will be there to welcome the discussion.
  • I could go on, but this post is already a bit too long.

Again, many law firms are already doing business this way, and to you I say,

“Congratulations.  You are making very wise business decisions by giving your marketers this kind of responsibility.”

To those of you who are still slowing down the business and strategic process of the firm by holding your marketers back, I encourage you to consider adopting some of the ideas I mentioned above, and many more that we haven’t discussed today.

Trust me, it will make your jobs much easier.  Sure, it might make their jobs more challenging, but not as challenging as when they are kept out of the loop.

Yes, marketers have to step up, too.

I wrote a post after this same LMA conference titled My Message To Marketers.

Final Thoughts:

Just remember they want to help.

Your marketers want to be valuable decision-makers.

They want you to be proud of your decision to hire them.

They are out there, every day, thinking…

“Put me in coach.  I’m ready to play!”

Law Firm Marketers Seat At The Table

Make them part of your team.

Management and marketers, what suggestions would you add to this discussion?

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  • I love this post Nancy. You hit the nail on the head.  I remember when I was a legal marketer within a law firm and I always wanted to contribute ideas, and be part of the team.  Luckily, I worked for a great firm that actually listened, but it was tough sometimes.  There is SO much red tape and ideas (and inspiration) gets lost in the “approval process”.  There has to be some degree of trust and the ability to make decisions given to legal marketers. 🙂

  • Thanks for stopping by samtaracollier  !  Yes, we all want to be an important part of a strategic team that helps make important decisions.  I hope firm management finds a way to figure out the assets they have on their payroll, and to use them to the firm’s advantage, not by holding them back from the important discussions, but by bringing them in to the fold to add value and perspective to the conversations that have to do with growth and survival.  

  • Vic Williams

    Hi Nancy. You have so hit the nail on the head. Many law firms see a marketer as a necessary expense, instead of as a necessary and important part of the income flow. However, I have noticed that with education, partners can and do change their way of thinking.

  • Hi  businesstrends1 … nice to see you here, and thank you for commenting.  Yes, partners can definitely change their way of thinking, and many have.  It’s bad business to spend good money hiring a marketer, or anyone for that matter, and to not let them do their job, which is to help the firm grow and prosper, so we look forward to more firms coming to accept their marketers as strategic partners.  

  • salescoach

    Good observations, Nancy. IMO, at least part of the under-utilization of internal marketers is the business ignorance of most firms and their leaders.  Remember that the 25-year boom that ended in 2008 made a lot of lawyers and firms rich without having to do much, if anything, that counted as real marketing or sales.  When demand grows constantly and dramatically, as it did throughout that period, all you have to do is avoid scandal and you’ll do just fine. For proof, simply review the across-the-board growth rates and annual price increases of the AmLaw 200 during that period.  What, everybody was a marketing genius, and to the same degree?
    As a result of that wonderful confluence of advantageous circumstances and sustained rising tide, there was little reason for lawyers to learn much about how business works.  After all, theirs was working just fine, thank you.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — and don’t waste time learning how it works, either.
    I’ll argue that any law firm that proves itself qualified to evaluate a marketer or sales person they’re interviewing is an outlier.  As a sales guy, how laughable would it be for me to evaluate the capability of a litigator, or IP lawyer?  Yet that’s what law firms try to do every day.
    There’s another issue, one that my mentioning won’t win me any friends, but is a part of the system’s dysfunction. Law firms pay far, far too much for these positions.  Surveys report salaries well up into the six figures (with a rumor that one CMO cracked the 7-figure plateau).  Hey, don’t get me wrong; those in such positions should take as much as someone’s willing to pay.  
    However, as you know from your corporate marketing days, a $200k job in the commercial world is big job, and there aren’t a lot of them, percentage-wise.  Yet, $200k, and far more, is common in BigLaw marketing.  If you’re making normal money, you make normal decisions to stay or leave, and professional frustration born of organizational handcuffs is a frequent cause of changing jobs.
    The problem arises when you’re making twice or more what you know you’d make in any other industry. You have that many  more reasons to swallow the frustration of the firm’s constraints and live with the situation because you’d feel like a moron (and your spouse might whack you on the head) for walking away from all that money to pursue professional satisfaction. The longer you make that money, the more you need it, expect it, and must protect it, which often means making it a priority not to rock the boat. No business boat needs rocking more vigorously than law.
    The risk is that we end up with something akin to people who’ve been in Congress too long: the priority shifts from doing the job to keeping the job.  Understandable, to be sure, but not the stuff of which industry transformation is made.