So, you’ve been in your role in the marketing department at your firm for a few years — and maybe you’ve been promoted once, received good performance evaluations, and like your work. Things are going well — but you want to expand your skill set, try something new, or take on a fresh challenge. The lawyers you work with routinely attend CLE classes (mainly because they have to maintain their standing with the state bar) so why shouldn’t you focus on your own professional development?
Just Look at the Numbers
Some recent surveys indicate that law firms are focused more than ever on marketing and business development, how they staff those functions and what kind of training/support firms provide (or don’t …):
Given the increased attention on marketing at law firms, it’s likely that law firms will begin to expect more and more from their marketing departments — and so law firm marketers of every stripe will need to “up their game.”
Grab the Wheel and Drive Your Own Professional Development Bus
What are some of the things you can do proactively to help you build your repertoire, increase your value to your department and firm, and continue to grow professionally? Here are a few suggestions — but there are probably dozens more:
- Ask to work on department/firm projects outside of your particular area. If your role is focused on PR and your business development group is getting ready to explore a new experience database, offer to be on the team that reviews/test drives the various options. It will give you insight into other members of your firm’s marketing team, what they do, and how what you do intersects with what they do.
- Check your local community college or university extension for writing or editing classes. “Going back to school” can be fun – and energizing. You don’t have to go full-on and get a Master’s (or an MBA) — but taking a few courses here and there can help keep you on your toes. Also check-out “marketing-related” courses. Many grad schools offer night-time classes that cover a variety of marketing-related topics, everything from “Integrated Marketing Communications” to “Digital Marketing & eCommerce.”
- Consider joining the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, prsa.org ) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC, iabc.com) if you have a PR or communications-focused role. Industry organizations that focus on your particular area can be invigorating and inspiring, especially if the organizations draw from multiple industries.
- Join a firmwide committee that focuses on a topic/area that is of interest to you. For example, if your firm has or is, as many firms are, implementing a “wellness” committee, and being healthy is of interest to you, ask to join the committee. Not only can you bring your particular skills to bear (for example, if you’re in communications, you can help the committee effectively communicate what they are doing to the firm), but you can get to know other people from different departments Volunteering for firmwide committees can broaden your knowledge of the firm, expose you to some new ideas, and provide opportunities to contribute to the firm in a new way.
- Get involved in the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), especially the PR & Communications Shared Interest Group (in the interests of full disclosure, I am currently one of the co-chairs of the PR & Communications SIG) or your local chapter. LMA offers an endless number of conferences, events, webinars, podcasts, etc. to help you grow professionally. Check out The Body of Knowledge (BoK).
- Become a mentor. Once of the best ways to push your own boundaries is to help others push theirs. Mentoring can be incredibly rewarding and you can learn as much about yourself as someone can learn from you. LMA has a mentoring program — or you can be a mentor more casually by offering to be a routine sounding board for a younger marketer in your area (or in your own department).
- Seek out opportunities to speak, present and write. There are many opportunities to hone your speaking and writing skills. You can present internally (to your fellow marketers) or to your attorneys. You can speak externally at LMA conferences (local and national) or at other marketing or communications conferences. Publications are always looking for by-lined articles. You’ll find as you develop your presentation or write your article, you learn new things or begin to look at things in a new/different way. Also listing presentations and articles on your resume is a great way to differentiate yourself and to demonstrate your competency.
Advice from the Masters
Enough with the specific, practical, actionable advice. To add some “real world” flavor to this article, I reached out to some of my esteemed colleagues and asked them if they would be willing to share some career advice, some recollections, etc.
Here’s a sampling of their responses.
Best piece of career advice someone gave you:
- “Don’t be afraid to spend your own money to invest in your career … in this context it was a very small (like less than $10) gift to a secretary that became an invaluable resource simply because I gifted her a thank you. Not everything is or should be expensed.” — Dave Bruns, Director of Client Services, Farella Braun + Martel
- “Listen more than you talk. A piece of advice that Warren Christopher once gave me. I try to apply this professionally and personally.” — Elsa Weiss, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Hueston Hennigan LLP
- “We didn’t hire you to just stand there and say ‘yes.’” — Joshua Peck, Director of Communications, Seeger Weiss, LLP, and Founder of Law Firm Media Professionals (www.lfmp.org)
- “If you want to be a journalist, don’t go to journalism school. Go to law or business school. (I wanted a second advanced degree as I already had a masters in literature.)” — Joe Calve, Chief Marketing Officer, McGuire Woods LLP
- “Sacrifice the small battles in order to win the war. Don’t bash predecessor or their work. Play with those who want to play.” — Kathleen Flynn, Senior Advisor, The Ackert Advisory
- “It wasn’t originally career advice, but I was a music student in college, and I was required to take conducting. As a conductor, you’re responsible for an entire orchestra or choir, but you can’t actually make a sound. You are completely dependent on motivating, inspiring, guiding and supporting others to make music. I believe the same thing at work. I am here to make my team better because in the end, you are only as good as your team, so it’s important to focus on what makes them perform at their best.” — Leah Schloss, Associate Director, NA Communications, Baker & McKenzie LLP
Your favorite proverb, maxim, etc.:
- “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Very helpful when trying to get lawyers to do marketing activities that they are reluctant to participate in. — Kathleen Flynn, Senior Advisor, The Ackert Advisory
- “Match and mirror and don’t be afraid to give.” — Dave Bruns
- “You can never sometimes tell what you least expect the most.” Harris B. Peck, M.D., a noted psychiatrist, professor, and father. — Joshua Peck
- “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning’s theory of the imperfect – the antidote to my least favorite maxim, which many lawyers have said to me: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” — Joe Calve
- “Practice makes perfect. I believe strongly that you can get better at anything – even the thing you most fear — if you work on it and practice.” — Leah Schloss, Associate Director, NA Communications, Baker & McKenzie LLP
Something that happened to you career-wise that seemed awful at the time — but ended up having a positive effect:
- “When McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersen merged with the Bingham law firm in 2002, the folks at the latter law firm were clearly in charge. Since I had been the head of marketing at McCutchen, this change was not what I had in mind professionally. But two good things emerged: I experienced first-hand what it was like to go through a law firm merger, and secondly, the merger bonded the admin team at McCutchen for life! Shortly after that, the opportunity to be CMO at Sheppard Mullin arose, and I leapt at it. I’ve been here for the last 15+ years and couldn’t be happier professionally and personally. Bingham/McCutchen ultimately dissolved.” — Vickie Spang, Chief Marketing Officer, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
- “The day I joined MoFo as their new CMO, they launched an ill-advised new website that partners rebelled against in spectacular fashion. (I thought they would lynch the chair who hired me.) I almost left the firm that night, but rode out the storm and learned a great deal about the firm, it’s culture, and how to defuse a crisis and turn it to your advantage.” — Joe Calve
Best/most useful professional development event/program you ever attended — and why:
- “Law Firm Media Professionals holiday party, every year — building knowledge, relationships, and my network in a mere, fun three to four hours of conversation.” — Joshua Peck
- “David Maister presentations on professional services firm’s marketing. He has such a practical, common sense approach to BD and really understood the professional services model, with all of its positives and challenges. Really learned a lot from his program based on his book “Trusted Adviser” which I still quote to lawyers today!” — Kathleen Flynn
- “The Zeughauser Group CMO roundtable with Bruce McLean, who was stepping down after many years as chair of Akin Gump and provided a candid and insightful view of the BigLaw world that continues to resonate with me.” — Joe Calve
- “Early career involvement in LMA Bay Area programs, because it was both learning and networking and as a newbie in the industry, I needed people and resources to share experiences with and collaborate with.” — Dave Bruns
- “In 2015, I attended Inbound, the annual conference hosted by HubSpot. It literally blew my mind. The firm I worked for had just started using HubSpot, and not only did I learn a great deal about how to optimize our use of the software for BD and marketing, I also was inspired by speakers like Brené Brown, Amy Schumer, Seth Godin and Jonah Peretti. I’ve been in the legal industry for more than 20 years, and it took until 2015 for me to realize that marketing conferences outside of legal can be relevant and inspiring. I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zones and attend a conference outside of legal.” — Leah Schloss
John J. Buchanan is Senior Manager of Communications at Sheppard Mullin. A member of this newsletter’s Board of Editors, he provides senior level public relations and communications counsel to lawyers, helping them raise their visibility in the media, strengthen their personal brands by using a variety of communication platforms, and manage their firms’ reputations.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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