I recently spoke with an executive recruiter about a marketing role I didn’t know existed: chief marketing officer for a global law firm. Frankly, I was surprised. In my previous discussions with executive recruiters and CMOs, I wasn’t aware that law firms had marketers, let alone CMOs.
To shed light on this relatively new position, I interviewed Pam Kutner, director at The Alexander Group, which is an executive search firm that conducts searches for senior-level talent for law firms (as well as other industries).
Whitler: I didn’t know that law firms had marketers. What is the history of marketing and CMOs in law firms?
Kutner: Historically, larger law firms have always had an individual, typically a marketing manager, who managed marketing materials, like attorney bios and brochures. However, over time, the position was elevated to a director level, and within the past 15 years CMOs have been added to law firms’ rosters. The CMO usually reports to the COO, managing partner, or chairperson, and, in some cases, dotted lines to some of these. Along with the elevated title and reporting structure, compensation has changed significantly. In some cases, law-firm CMOs can earn in the seven figures.
Whitler: What role does a CMO play within law firms? Does it vary and, if so, what drives the variance?
Kutner:There are generally two key types of CMO roles within the legal industry. The first is the standard marcom role, whereby the CMO manages the media strategy, public relations, and marketing communications. However, there is a second type of role that is more business development-oriented, similar to a sales role. Marketing in law firms is typically a staff/support function that helps other functions within the firm develop new business. However, as competition has increased, law firms are looking to their CMOs to help initiate and land new business.
In some firms, the title has been changed to chief business development officer. We recently completed a search whereby the CMO has a team of over 30 individuals, evenly divided between business development and marcom. The business development function is tasked with generating awareness and interest in the individual practice groups, through whitepapers, events, CRM systems, practice group specialists, and training for the attorneys to help them generate more business. The marketing department evaluates new business opportunities and sets the strategy to focus on the “right” ones, leading the effort to generate new business while enhancing the broader organization’s capability. This makes the marketing role critical to business performance, and, in turn, these CMOs are compensated higher than many CMOs in other industries.
Whitler: What is the career path of a law firm CMO?
Kutner: Many CMOs started in law firms and have been promoted within the industry. Some are actually former attorneys who prefer marketing. More recently, law firms have recruited CMOs from the professional--PWC, KPMG, McKinsey, Booz Allen, etc.--and financial services industries. These CMOs tend to be comfortable working with very bright individuals in a partnership culture, and analyzing data required in a sophisticated customer development B2B environment.
Whitler: If a marketer is interested in working for a law firm, what advice would you give them?
Kutner: Gain best-in-class B2B marketing and business development experience by initially working for a top-tier professional services organization. This provides a solid background for understanding the marketing and revenue cycle and how to target and generate new business. The leading professional services firms have been doing this longer, with more sophisticated systems, and business development is highly valued in their corporate culture.
Whitler: What does the future hold for a law-firm CMO?
Kutner: The law-firm CMO will continue to add value--and could likely be a potential la- firm COO. However, these roles aren’t for the faint of heart. The partnership structure of a law firm means you could have over 1,000 bosses, and many believe they know marketing, which may contribute to the high turnover in this role.
We originally saw turnover in the CMO role because the attorneys didn’t know what the person would do. Every attorney expected something different, and the CMO was not set up for success. Some of the oldest law firms were founded in the 1800s and were reluctant to think that they needed a marketing function. However, today, law firm leadership teams are becoming more strategic and sophisticated in order to survive, which creates a bright future for law-firm CMOs. For a strong marketing leader, who can build consensus, drive revenues, and deliver tangible new business results, these positions can be exciting, challenging, and rewarding.