A day in the life of…

A typical day in the marketing department of a law firm can resemble a game of hunt the marketing director. These elusive characters often need to spend so much time communicating their message to partners that the time they actually spend in their office is minimal.

I spoke to Richard Holt, ex marketing partner with Nabarro Nathanson, about what he looks for in a key marketeer. The overwhelming message was that well worn phrase "interpersonal skills".

Although marketing matters have improved in law firms, as a breed they are still fairly new to the practice, and the general feeling that communications people are the dead wood of a practice is certainly still alive and kicking.

Happily times have changed somewhat since a major firm advertised for a marketing director with the now-famous proviso that the lucky appointee would occasionally be permitted to dine with the partners in their dining room.

But even now, according to a survey carried out by Strategic Marketing Communications, the average length of stay of a marketeer in a professional services firm is 18 months. Not really surprising when you consider some of the stories that do the rounds, such as the top 10 firm whose lavish brochure, produced at vast expense, was hated by the senior partner. In fact, that particular firm's brochures were produced without any input from the then marketing director.

Then there is another practice's famous failure to proof-read their aviation handout – "chock up" turned into "cock up". Other tales include the marketing department that was closed down without the staff being consulted and repeated changes being made to a brochure with no input from the in-house experts.

A lot of marketing people who work for law firms go into something completely different when they leave. Kim Tasso, ex-Nabarros, has gone to the TEC and Patricia Lennon of Dibb Lupton is becoming a director of a marketing consultancy. Lennon stresses that she is taking Dibbs with her to the agency but did admit that a directorship would give her the opportunity to have more involvement in running the business. Unlike accountancy, under Law Society rules, marketing staff cannot become partners in law firms.

The key word for marketeers seems to be the f word: frustration – both from the political nature of the partnership and from lack of money. In many practices all partners have an equal say in every element, which makes it easy for communication to break down.

Another problem is serious undermanning of departments. For example, a firm as large as Clifford Chance has only seven in-house staff and Davies Arnold Cooper pursues an aggressively pro-active marketing strategy with only two staff.

In many law firms marketing is more a matter of ball juggling than careful and thorough work on a strategic plan.

Often a marketeer can survive in-house as long as all the balls remain in the air, but as soon as any drop, as inevitably they will, jobs are on the line and a reshuffle of staff is virtually inevitable.

North of Watford there is a shake-up of marketing staff in two major firms, and after a stint in law firm at least two key players in professional services have not only left their jobs but left the country as well.

It seems you can feel as much on the wrong side of the law in a marketing department as the criminal in the dock.

Louisa Biggs is a former marketing executive at Davies Arnold Cooper.