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March 01, 2022 The Marketing Issue

Taking the Lead: Marketing Mentoring

Linda Klein and John Hinton IV

As a leader in your firm, you know the importance of developing the next generation of legal talent and how mentoring relationships are vital to that development. Sometimes the focus of mentoring is limited to developing legal skills alone, so we wanted to consider and share the benefits of including marketing development in your mentoring of your younger colleagues.

Developing the Next Generation

The task of personal client development can overwhelm young lawyers. Their opportunities to spend that limited marketing time can appear endless, particularly for lawyers practicing in larger cities. However, time is limited as they prioritize developing legal skills. Your colleague knows that not all opportunities are good investments of their time, but they don’t have the experience to discern which opportunities are most likely to bear fruit. Likewise, most younger lawyers’ peers and contacts have not reached the points in their own careers to provide business opportunities or to open doors. It can create the perfect storm for your colleague— endless possibilities, none of which may seem likely to pay off anytime soon, limited time forcing choices, and the knowledge that successful marketing is critical to their career. And they may have not yet developed the skills and confidence to market well.

These young lawyers need mentors. You cannot mentor all of them, but you and each of your more senior colleagues can make a substantial difference for at least one. Help your mentees assess their opportunities and to choose wisely where to spend their efforts. Share with them how you developed your practice. Have enough humility to share the mistakes you made along the way.

Find a few opportunities to work together in your marketing efforts so your more junior colleagues can learn from seeing you in action. Of course, use discretion when deciding which and how many of your own marketing activities you ask your proteges to participate in. There is a legitimate place for having them assist you with the grunt work necessary for certain marketing activities, and many of those tasks can help them develop their own skills in addition to contributing to your firm’s success. However, there is a line between work that they should do and dumping your pet projects on them. Help them understand how they are contributing to the firm’s success and to developing their own skills. Be careful also not to allow those assignments to constitute the total substance of your mentoring.

Likewise, remember that your younger colleagues are likely eager to learn from you and to contribute to larger tasks that help the firm, but there is a limit to how much time they should spend marketing at this stage of their career. The most important thing for a new lawyer to learn is how to be a good lawyer. The marketing should come after that. They don’t want to tell you “no.” You weigh the opportunity costs when spending your own time. Do the same when you spend their time.

An Opportunity to Retain Talent

Attorney turnover remains a challenge for law firms. Some firms can throw money at the problem, but that is not the solution. You need other ways to encourage associates to reject opportunities at competing law firms. Your investment in young colleagues’ abilities to market can be a part of a strategy of keeping them in your firm. It demonstrates your commitment to their careers. They can see a pathway to success at your firm because you showed it to them. The relationship built through the time spent together developing business with your mentee will carry over into the entire work relationship with that colleague. Your loyalty and commitment to them will typically be reciprocated.

When offers for new jobs and more money come along, those younger colleagues with whom you have invested have a more difficult choice. They do not know the new firm’s commitment to their success, nor the trustworthiness and loyalty of their potential new colleagues—but they know yours.

If you have invested in the right people, then your odds of retaining them are greatly increased. However, when we fail to invest in the success of those younger colleagues, we make their decision to leave easy. If the intangible benefits of staying at your firm are few, then what good reason exists not to take the better financial offer? Help your colleagues with their client development and you have given them a pathway that can be a better long-term financial decision—one that can outweigh the benefit of an immediate jump in their paycheck.

Linda Klein

Senior Managing Shareholder

Linda Klein is a past president of the ABA and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. She is a frequent speaker on law practice, construction and higher education law. [email protected]

John Hinton IV


John Hinton IV is a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and construction law. [email protected]

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