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Part 2

What to Look for When Hiring Your Firm’s First Marketing or BD Professional

A checklist to use before your search begins.

By Kate Shipham

Sooner or later, all firms find themselves asking whether they should hire a marketing or business development professional — closely followed by “how” to hire and whom.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the five factors that signal your firm and partners are ready to hire someone. Typically, it’s the realization that the firm’s growth has stalled and the current working model actually hinders growth.

Now let’s talk about how to find that professional.

How Do You Identify the Right Person? Three Elements

Experience has taught me that no single criterion will determine the “right” match, but common patterns often emerge. Over time, I’ve developed a framework based on what I know law firms value. Here are three key elements.

1. Organizational Cultural Fit

It’s always essential to test technical expertise. But organizational and cultural fit is more important. At its core, cultural fit is about ensuring all of your professionals share the values your firm and leadership have established. Put simply, it’s “the way things get done around here.” For some firms, that means hiring entrepreneurial professionals in an environment that encourages creativity and risk-taking. For some, it means hiring professionals who thrive on competition in a driven and hierarchical environment. Each firm is different, so each hire will be different.

Cultural fit is hard to incorporate into a formal interview. To properly consider whether the values of the candidate match those of your firm, create situations where the candidate is more relaxed and make sure the person conducting the interview is armed with the right questions.

People choose to stay at firms because of the cultural fit and the right leadership at the top. Technical knowledge is simpler to identify, and gaps are more quickly resolved through training.

2. Seniority

How senior and involved in the business will this professional be? There are four levels for the professional you’ll consider hiring.

  1. Junior administrative support employee. This person will provide basic marketing duties and will not contribute to strategy; they do what you tell them. It’s tempting to begin a department here, as it’s an affordable, seemingly risk-free approach. But if you spend all your time directing someone what to do, getting a task done may take up as much of your time as theirs.
  2. Mid-level professional. This person takes direction but also executes independently. A good person performing at this level will also contribute to strategy but will need leadership from, typically, a managing partner or marketing partner.
  3. More senior visionary. They are proactive and strategy-focused and will set the tone of the marketing or BD function. They will be telling the partnership how the function should evolve at their firm and will be instrumental in crafting this function.
  4. Change agent. This is a seasoned professional who will help facilitate an internal shift to elevate or change the marketing or BD function. This is a harder task that often happens when the marketing function may have been established incorrectly and some serious course-correcting and perception-shifting is warranted. This person is very much a peer to the partners and respected for their understanding of firm dynamics and the expertise they bring to the table.

A common mistake is to hope your first hire can somehow miraculously span all four roles. Know what seniority is right for your firm now. This will naturally change over time as the function is more established.

3. Recruiting Strategy

You may not realize it, but your recruiting strategy affects your firm’s reputation and how the industry responds when you’re searching. Think about how long it should take to run a search, who should be involved in the process, and how people will engage with the candidates along the journey.

Marketing and business development professionals do have the reputation of typically changing jobs frequently. Senior marketing and BD folks will seek out roles with more authority, empowerment and strategy. For mid-level professionals, what’s important to them when they move relates more to the culture, firm leadership and a firm’s tendency to promote from within, as well as title advancement. For juniors, it’s typically all about promotion and work-life integration.

Against this backdrop, we’re experiencing extreme competition in the legal profession and a 50-year-low unemployment rate. Handling your first search well and hiring correctly will help you avoid headaches and preserve your reputation as a well-run and progressive firm.

Specialist knowledge, professionalism, transparency, proactiveness, deadline-driven; these things are, in my experience, critical to a successful search. Failed searches have at least one and often most of these elements missing from a sound recruiting strategy.

Hiring Checklist

It is a challenge to make the decision to hire and then find the right marketing or BD professional for your firm. Before you hire, consider this checklist:

  • Do you know what you’re looking for in your right candidate?
  • Do you have a consensus within your firm?
  • What are the geography-specific salary ranges and comparative bonus percentages? (And, are they in line with comparative market intelligence?)
  • Are you aware of new laws impacting a hire, such as new laws relating to the salary history discussions?
  • Have you defined, and gained agreement on, your recruiting strategy?
  • Do you have the knowledge, experience and capacity to execute your recruiting strategy?

If you can answer these questions confidently, you are well positioned for a great search and a successful first hire.

And remember, this is a defining, exciting and precedent-setting time for your firm. Getting it right is far more important than quickly checking it off your list.

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Kate Harry Shipham Kate Shipham

Kate Harry Shipham is principal of KHS People, an executive search firm placing business developers and marketers into professional services firms. Kate’s background is solely within professional services firms, initially as a practicing attorney for seven years, and then as a search and recruiting professional for six years prior to launching KHS People in 2017. She is active in the Midwest Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association and serves on the board of the Chicago Chapter of the Association for Accounting Marketing. Follow her on Twitter @KHSPeopleLLC.

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