January/February 2019

Marketing

Hiring an in-house marketer at a small firm.

Greg Siskind

A question I’ve fielded from fellow lawyers over the years is whether they should hire an in-house marketing professional. Most of the time the question comes from small-firm lawyers because larger firms generally have marketing professionals; indeed, they have teams of people devoted to the task. But more than two-thirds of American lawyers working in private practice are in law firms with fewer than 10 lawyers. And of that large group of lawyers, more than half are in solo practices. What’s the right advice for them?

Large firms have the luxury of being able to add to their team without the angst facing their smaller counterparts. A solo adding his or her first legal assistant, then paralegal, then associate lawyer faces massive overhead increases each time an employee is added, and it can take years of saving and growing to build up to those points.

Firms of every size need to market to grow and prosper, but smaller firms can face hurdles that seem greater. For one, the lawyers typically go the DIY route for much of the work, and this just adds one more hat to the many that a solo or small-firm lawyer has to wear. And to the extent marketing professionals are engaged to help, the expense cannot be spread across a larger organization.

Seeking Help With Marketing

I bit the bullet many years ago and hired a full-time marketing assistant, and I’ve had various people fill this role since it was created in September 2001. Despite the ominous timing, it was a good move for me because I had undertaken a lot of marketing initiatives designed to help my law firm scale up and needed a lot of help.

What did I need the person to do? For one, my marketing largely focuses around written content. I had a monthly email newsletter and an active website, and I write books, have a blog and post regularly on social media. So I needed help producing our written content, particularly our monthly immigration law newsletter. I also wanted someone to help manage the firm’s website. Our website has been a critical part of our marketing since it went live in June 1994. My marketing assistant’s duties therefore include being a web master.

Over the years the position has evolved and now, in addition to the duties noted above, it includes managing the firm’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Google pages, monitoring online reviews for the firm’s lawyers, helping attorneys write their individual marketing plans and working with our outside marketing professionals. These include a graphic artist who is responsible for our print marketing materials, a public relations professional who manages press releases and our website developer for major changes to the website.

I didn’t have a lot of requirements for the job at the outset—just be a good writer, be organized and have a good attitude. I also didn’t have a lot of money to pay. I’ve joked over the years that I look to fill that job with recent college graduates who have useless liberal arts degrees. But that’s not far from the truth. The position has had some turnover through the years, mostly losing employees who decided they liked working in a law firm and ended up attending law school.

Asking the Right Questions

But while this was the right approach for my firm, I return to the question I asked initially—when should small firms hire an in-house marketing professional? And there are related questions. How much do you need to pay such a person? How do you train them? What are the job duties you should include? What should you continue outsourcing? And how do you find a good candidate?

I usually have pretty strong opinions about the subjects I write about in this column, but for this one I genuinely have an open mind and wrote to a number of my marketing guru friends to get their views. Noted below is some of the advice I received.

How much should you budget? According to Larry Bodine, senior legal marketing strategist at LawLytics, the rule of thumb for small law firms is to budget 2.5 to 4 percent of gross revenues for marketing. So a firm with $1.5 million in revenue should budget up to $60,000 for marketing, which should allow for the hiring of a dedicated marketing coordinator. You’ll still need to ensure that you have room for other marketing line items, such as the management of your website, Facebook advertising, attorney business development reimbursements, public relations expenditures and more.

What is best left outsourced? Dave Bruns, director of client services at San Francisco’s Farella Braun + Martel, recommends reserving tasks that are periodic and specialized for outside professionals. For example, you can hire an outside graphic designer to prepare an advertising template and use your in-house professional to change the copy as the template is reused in different places. Bodine recommends also using outside professionals for developing a website.

How do you train someone? Ross Fishman, CEO of Fishman Marketing, recommends viewing the in-house marketing professional as being akin to a paralegal, someone who ideally should be working under the guidance of an experienced outside marketer who can provide marketing training, assist with the development of a marketing plan and provide advice on what to do next. Without such guidance the inexperienced in-house professional will end up doing lots of marketing but wasting too much time on the wrong activities. Bodine offers similar advice; he recommends using an outside marketing consultant on a part-time basis and then transitioning to an in-house professional whom the outside consultant can train.

Bruns recommends offering training opportunities, such as attending conferences and watching webinars, by joining the Legal Marketing Association. I’d add to that reading many of the wonderful resources provided by the ABA’s Law Practice Division. Nonlawyers can join the Division, and many of the country’s top legal marketers are members. Bruns also recommends having your marketing coordinator make presentations to the firm under the theory that skills are honed when you need to master a subject and present it to a group.

How do you find a candidate? While the job market is tight right now, Bodine suggests asking around with marketing administrators at other firms. And the Legal Marketing Association has a job board. But, as Fishman notes, a law firm aiming to hire someone with a strong legal marketing background may result in getting a candidate who is too experienced—and performing work at too low a level for their salary. And that’s where I can chime in. The best people I’ve had filling my in-house position have been people who had no experience but were smart, organized, good writers and had a sunny disposition. There is definitely more competition to get these folks, but they are still out there.

Greg Siskind

Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer and a co-author of the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet (4th ed.). Email him.

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