Susan Maher, marketing and business development manager, Schillings

Schillings’ marketing manager on high-profile clients, the evolving market and the perils of law firm IT

What would your advice be to anyone wanting to enter this industry?

Start by researching various roles in the market to determine what each firm can offer by way of responsibility and opportunities. In the case of Schillings, its ABS status was very appealing to me when deciding to apply for the role. Not only has it enabled the firm to be more innovative with the service offering – in turn making the firm more competitive in the market – but it has also provided me with the opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the firm’s marketing and business development around our multidisciplinary offer of risk consulting, law and cyber security. 

What are the challenges of being in a marketing and BD role inside a law firm?

Speaking to others in the industry, marketing and business development is often put down the priority list primarily because it is non-billable. This is generally due to lack of understanding, training, and experience.

The challenge therefore is to get the rest of the firm to see marketing as a valuable asset that can benefit the firm as a whole. Key to this is ensuring that any marketing and business development strategy is consistent, measurable and beneficial to everyone, not just a specific partner. At Schillings there has been investment in developing a business development culture over many years and the partners really drive this area.  This approach certainly makes my job more interesting.  

With a changing legal landscape, more competitors in the market and numerous new product offerings, clients are increasingly demanding more tailored, commercial advice. By working closely with fee-earners, marketing and business development professionals can play a crucial role in galvanising the necessary insights on the industry in which a client operates; guaranteeing expert and considered advice that will help ensure the needs of the clients are met.

That said there’s still a job to do in encouraging partners to think more about business development and to embrace social media channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The fact that firms are opening social media accounts is a strong indication that branded content is becoming an increasingly valuable asset as firms look to build their reputations and promote their IP through social media channels.

What are the challenges of doing this role for a business which has a number of confidential, celebrity clients?

The Schillings client base continues to include high-profile and high-net-worth individuals, yet a large percentage of our revenue is now derived from large private and publicly listed companies. Yes, we continue to conduct a wide variety of libel and privacy work; however the nature of our work is expanding at our clients’ request to focus more on preventing damage than cleaning it up.

The challenge I face as a marketing and business development manager is to ensure that we stay true to the principles, history and reputation we’ve built as a firm over the last 30 years, whilst ensuring that we continue to lead the way in redefining what it means to be a law firm. As challenges go, I’m not complaining, but it is a challenge nonetheless and one that I believe we’re making significant headway on.

How has your role changed since joining the firm and why (ie relaunching as a privacy and cyber-security firm)?

When I joined Schillings I was initially responsible for our corporate clients and prospects, but following the launch of our multidisciplinary offer through our rebrand, we soon found interest emerging from both corporate and private clients.

As mentioned before, courtesy of being a smaller-sized firm, my role naturally evolved to cover both corporate and private clients.  I’ve also been fortunate to get more involved in our product development, working closely with the senior partners and the heads of risk consulting and cyber security.

What is your favourite part of the day?

The morning – I like to get in early so I can check emails and scan the papers, social media channels and online publications for any hot topics/issues. This is the time when new ideas come to me, which in turn informs my thinking and the ways in which we can match our product portfolio with issues and topics that others are talking about.

What has been your career highlight?

At the risk of sounding predictable, it would have to be my move to Schillings, and here’s why. At the time not only was I moving into a new industry, but I also knew I was going to work for a law firm with a strong reputation but which was undergoing substantial change.

Having made the move, I can honestly say it’s been great to be part of an innovative firm that not only offers great opportunities internally, but is bold and has a get up and go attitude. It is this dynamism that has seen our rebrand come to fruition and why the feedback from both prospects and clients has been overwhelming positive.

What’s your best piece of career advice?

Don’t be afraid to enter new sectors and to take on new challenges. Be confident to voice your opinions and challenge those around you. The best solutions come from collaboration.

What are the key issues in the market at the moment, from a marketing and BD point of view?

There is no doubt that the UK legal services profession is embarking on a period of unprecedented change with more and more law firms demonstrating an openness and willingness to change. With the introduction of ABS licences and the evolution of traditional approaches to legal work, firms are beginning to expand their in-house offering in order to become more competitive in the market.

Innovation is key to achieving the competitive advantage which is why marketing and business development professionals need to keep on top of changes in the sector. Marketing needs to be at the forefront when it comes to promoting the firm’s thought leadership and ensuring that the right social media channels are engaged.

What’s on your to-do list?

The summer rollout of our digital media campaign; showcasing our six new product offerings based on our multidisciplinary offer of risk consulting, law and cyber security. This in turn will lead into our autumn events, which will be delivered by our risk, legal and cyber security specialists.

We are also in the process of relaunching The Reputation Network which was originally a forum for other firms similar to us in Europe and the US to come together and discuss recent issues in protecting client reputations. We’ve since extended the network to other professionals in different jurisdictions who are interested in the protection of reputations and privacy, such as; PR; communications; SEO investigative agencies and media-monitoring.

IT systems used?

If my time at Schillings has taught me anything, it is that law firms are increasingly being targeted by hackers, due to the confidential information that they hold. Just the disclosure of your IT systems can make you more of a target, which is why I decline to comment.