July 18, 2022

Marketing: Staffing Your Law Firm Marketing Team

Micah Buchdahl
The nature and nuances of staffing your marketing department certainly varies from law firm to law firm.

The nature and nuances of staffing your marketing department certainly varies from law firm to law firm.

iStock / megaflopp

The questions and concerns surrounding marketing roles look a little different as we approach 2023. If you are a law firm marketing professional seeking employment (or a new destination) and have struck out over the last year, that’s a problem. In the 25 years I’ve been involved with law firm marketing, there has never been a time that I’ve seen more solid open opportunities with such a limited pool of interested candidates.

Whether it is the post-COVID-19 job market, the Great Resignation or a combination of factors, I tell applicants for marketing positions that if they are qualified and can’t land something viable right now, they are doing something wrong. In most parts of the country, there are more open positions than candidates. It is not dissimilar to the rest of the job market.

Recently, I was retained to place two similar positions, with the same title and responsibilities, at two law firms of the same size (100+), three months apart. In that short time, there were several significant changes. First, the experience and the skill set of applicants changed from five to 10 years of experience to nearly 20 years. Second, of course, was that the baseline compensation went up by nearly 20%, from hovering around upper $100,000 to $200,000+. A marketer who had a stint of less than two (COVID) years at an Am Law 100 firm told me he would not consider a package below $300,000—after which I immediately put his in the reject stack of resumes. I would not have hired him anyway—but the sheer brazenness said something about the current situation.

Familiar faces

Thanks to the magic of Gmail, I can pop a name into my email account and access any correspondence from the last 20+ years. One of my favorite roles is that of search firm—hiring marketers or the marketing team for a law firm. As the resumes arrive with many familiar-looking names, I often check my email and see that I’ve interviewed them for similar jobs five, 10, in some cases more than 20 years ago. How could these people still be on the market? I often ask myself.

Besides familiar names, every search produces eerie similarities. There are the search firms that comb the job posting boards and let you know they are available to assist (although if the position is posted, you already have a plan for the process). That cold call or cold email should be treated just as you treat a robocall selling an extended car warranty. Then there are the consultant applicants that have no intention of relocating or working full time for you. They plan to convince you that they can do the job for you from [name the state], and either juggle multiple clients or provide a convoluted compensation model that will not work. My favorite, though, are the applicants who find a law firm partner online and reach out directly to them—without any prior relationship—and ask for consideration. That lack of understanding of the process and protocols already tells you that they are not qualified. But they all keep trying.

‘Will I have a seat at the table?’

It is perhaps the most-asked question I receive from a marketing director in the interview process: “Will I have a seat at the table?” And my answer, typically, is “That will be up to you.” Of course, the “seat” refers to something akin to an executive or management committee. The question, and the answer, belies the concern that the marketer will not truly play a role in the overarching goals of the business. There is a worry that they are not there to be strategic, but more to implement. Additionally, that leads to a corresponding issue about the reporting process. The questions are cut from the same cloth. If I’m not reporting directly to the decision makers, then will my messages get lost in the shuffle?

My “That will be up to you” response is based on my own experiences and what I’ve witnessed over 20+ years. The marketer who is seen by the attorney as central to the overall law firm operation will be expected at key partnership meetings. The one who is seen as simply a cog in the machine will not. It is your job to define that role—and those who are highly successful will not only be invited to the table but will be expected to be there. I put that onus on you. It is rare to see a high-level business development leader not end up “in the room where it happens.”

‘Office, remote or hybrid?’

The question of “Office, remote or hybrid?” precedes the pandemic. This is not something that came along with COVID-19, but the answers have changed. I’ve often been asked about a firm’s in-office requirements. The old-school part of me (perhaps we can call it generational) still believes that most marketing roles require you to be in the office. If your position is dependent on in-person interaction with the attorneys, attendance at practice group meetings and staff oversight, you should probably be accessible in the law firm setting most of the time. However, there are roles that certainly do not involve a lot of employee interaction. Some of the best publications and graphic design people I know at firms work from home a significant amount of the time.

Of course, the aforementioned seat at the table is much more attainable if you are not “out of sight, out of mind.” The reality is that the answer to the question “Office, remote or hybrid?” in the foreseeable future is going to be “Hybrid.” The pandemic has led to a changing of attitudes and philosophies regarding the office space—still a necessity, but maybe not five days a week.

This is not to say that for many marketing positions remote is out of the question. In most of my job placement searches of the last year, we have taken the approach that if a super candidate appears from a remote location, we’ll consider it. Typically, we still want you in a city where the firm at least has some sort of presence, but remote is a consideration. Truth be told, though, no senior-level marketing position where I’ve conducted the search has gone to a candidate who either was not local or planning to relocate. However, some of the junior opportunities have gone the remote route. There just needs to be the understanding with those positions that being remote can limit upward mobility, a real feel for the culture and relationships with the lawyers—which may be acceptable, but perhaps not for your own career goals.

‘Can’t we just do this ourselves?’

The leadership of one of my law firm clients called me after the previous marketer I hired five years ago moved on. My standard line is that if your marketer is there for five years, I did a great job. These are not tenured positions. The leadership suggested that perhaps, since the job and description I drafted before was not going to change much, that they could run this process themselves. I said absolutely—if you want to spend countless billable hours reviewing some bad resumes, talking to some wholly unqualified applicants and doing all the necessary due diligence—do you really want to? They did not.

The nature and nuances of staffing your marketing department certainly varies from law firm to law firm. The pool of candidates and the level of compensation can vary based on geography, the type of practice, what the rest of the marketing operation looks like and the sophistication of the business model. But the nice thing is that law firms continue to understand how critical these roles are and have come to grips with the reality of the investment necessary. If you are a dissatisfied law marketer, this is the time to move. And if you are a law firm with gaps in the business development operation, don’t wait too long. The legal marketplace is not getting any less competitive or aggressive.

Micah Buchdahl

Attorney

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on business development initiatives. Based in Moorestown, New Jersey, he is president of HTMLawyers, Inc., a law marketing consultancy. He is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. micah@htmlawyers.com

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