Going up market

Law firms’ marketing strategies have become more sophisticated and the right person can forge a rewarding career from going down the legal route. However, due to its specialised nature, the life of the legal marketer is not always easy. Chris Hinze reports. Chris Hinze is worldwide marketing manager for Andersen Legal.

The market for legal marketing staff is at its most buoyant. According to new research carried out by recruitment consultants Chambers & Partners, the major law firms are unanimous in their plans to increase the size of their marketing departments in 2000.

All firms of more than 150 partners plan to increase their marketing departments, while nearly seven out of 10 firms in the 79-149 partner bracket and a similar number of 45-74 partner firms also see themselves gearing up their marketing capability in the next year.

Those with expertise in business development are the most heavily in demand. This includes people involved in account development and management – relatively new disciplines for law firms. And anecdotal evidence suggests that industry sector specialists, who are able to bring their expertise from a bank to a law firm, are also on the wanted list.

This is all the result of law firms placing increasing emphasis on a more sophisticated approach to winning new clients and managing their relationships with existing ones.

“There is much greater focus on business development within industry sectors,” says Chambers & Partners marketing recruitment consultant Jane Smith. “The larger law firms are increasingly going towards greater specialisation within their marketing departments.”

Market-leading firms recognise that planning their marketing around a sausage roll served at an unfocused event is not the way to do it. Smith says: “The most sophisticated law firms are hiring research analysts to research markets that firms want to either break into or significantly expand.” Some firms use analysts to calculate whether particular sectors are likely to be profitable and even whether certain parts of the firm make any money.

In doing so there is a trend for the larger, predominantly City and magic circle firms, to have less generic marketing communications people. Instead they are hiring communications specialists that can handle a tightly defined role such as database management, website design and management, public relations and internal communications.

Database and website staff are relatively new functions, reflecting the desire to accurately target buyers of legal services and take advantage of the opportunities provided by web-based technologies.

There is also an ongoing trend for law firms to move away from using outside PR agencies and bring those skills in-house, with some practices building up marketing teams of four to five people. The internal communications role is also emerging among the more sophisticated practices as the sheer size of an international law firm requires lawyers and staff to be aware of what is going on beyond the usual coffee machine gossip.

Sally Dunwoody, managing recruitment consultant at QD Marketing, says: “There is a shortage of good candidates with professional services backgrounds so firms are willing to look at people from other business sectors. Firms recruiting staff to handle proposals are taking people from accountancy firms and IT companies where they are used to tendering for massive projects.”

The personal skills required of legal marketers remains at the forefront. Experience of working with and understanding clients is seen as very important. Dunwoody says: “People from agencies – such as PR agencies – are seen as having good client handling skills and are therefore in demand.”

Knowing how a law firm works is also important. As Smith says: “An understanding of a partnership culture and the ability to work within it is vital for the success of any marketer.”

At the same time, there is a steady stream of people with MBA backgrounds starting to enter the profession. “They perceive the growing importance and value of professional services marketing,” says Smith.

Among the top international law firms, new types of marketers are coming to the fore. Pre- and post-merger law firms recognise the need to work with marketers who understand the value of brands in a global marketplace.

Much greater resource and emphasis is being placed on the management of the tendering process. Traditionally handled by the lawyers themselves, or as an ad hoc role for staff in the marketing department, top-end law firms are buying in heavyweight expertise. These marketers offer the ability to run the whole tender process. Dunwoody says: “This includes not only the researching, co-ordination and preparation of tender documents and presentations but also the initial client interviews, coaching of partners and putting in place the account management systems following a successful win.”

It goes without saying that the larger firms have significantly more resources than their smaller brethren. In the larger firms there might be a central marketing function that provides overall communications support as well as industry-sector based or legal department-based marketers sitting with their legal colleagues. By working alongside lawyers instead of in a mammoth department, these marketers are able to gain a greater understanding of their internal clients and the way their business operates. But this high degree of specialisation can lead to a degree of frustration as some find themselves pigeonholed and missing out on the bigger picture.

Also, with marketers working for various legal departments, co-ordination of efforts can be an enormous task. Combine this with an additional layer of regional and international offices and the result can be a convoluted matrix structure. It can also be frustrating for marketers to find that they have to spend valuable time negotiating with their marketing peers in other parts of the firm, creating a feeling that no one is really “in charge”.

In the smaller firms there is a different perspective and marketers have to be more of a jack-of-all-trades. However, they can be much closer to the business and the senior management than some of their colleagues in the bigger firms. Smaller firms, especially those operating in niche markets, may have the ability to be much more quick-footed and proactive in the way they market and position their services. Their size and focus means that they are more able to develop, test and implement legal products.

The downside is that in the smaller firms, marketers can find themselves having to justify the existence of marketing – potentially spending as much time convincing the partnership of their value as in doing the job itself. This factor alone can send marketers from the smaller to the larger firms where the acceptance of marketing is much more ingrained.

That said, the financial rewards of working for a law firm tend to outstrip the general market. Brand managers for fast-moving consumer goods companies tend to be paid less than their professional services counterparts. According to the Chambers & Partners Salary Survey, a business development or marketing director for a top law firm will earn over £100,000. Even in the smaller firms of 75-149 partners the top marketer will be paid nearly £90,000.

In the largest firms a marketing communications manager, industry sector marketing manager or analyst all get paid around the £50-55,000 mark. Database managers come out as the poorer cousins, receiving around £32,000, with website developers getting £34,000.

With the market remaining strong for top quality people, the demand for good talent is going to continue to drive up salaries in the profession.

As long as the overall economic climate remains strong law firm marketers will continue to benefit from a fiercely competitive marketplace.