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Part 1

How Do You Know It’s Time to Hire a Marketing or Business Development Professional?

By Kate Shipham

Consider these five factors, when it’s time to hire a law firm’s first marketing or business development professional.

The marketing and business development function in law firms is an established, credible business service. Unless a firm acquires a marketing department as part of a merger, these departments are built — carefully and thoughtfully — over time. But many smaller firms operate without one until someone realizes the firm’s growth is curtailed because fee-earners are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. Sooner or later, all firms — even solo practices — find themselves asking “when” they know the time has come to hire a marketing or BD professional, closely followed by “how” do I hire and whom.

This is the first in a two-part piece addressing these questions.

Signs It’s the Right Time to Hire a Law Firm Marketing Professional

If you are answering “yes” to one or more of these five factors, then it’s likely time to embark on hiring your first marketing or BD professional:

  • Your firm’s market position or pipeline has shifted negatively, and you’re not sure how to reverse that trend.
  • You have senior or named partners who have been key to generating revenue and who are leaving the firm in the coming years. Their successors do not have the same “rainmaker” abilities.
  • You have lawyers and partners who are showing an appetite or aptitude for acting on their own individual BD goals but don’t have coaching and support to make them successful.
  • You have key lawyers and partners who are frequently talking about a website overhaul or a brand refresh but do not have the expertise or time to advance the projects.
  • You have non-marketing professionals, such as a paralegal or office manager, maintaining some marketing or BD activities, but no marketing or BD leader setting the strategy.

Common Missteps

Having identified the need to build a marketing or BD function, it’s important to avoid some common missteps in implementing that plan:

Confusing marketing and business development

Many firm leaders do not understand the difference between marketing and BD. Many firms also define these functions very differently. Know where you need the most assistance and name it according to your specific needs and firm. For example, heavy-hitting BD activities include:

  • Developing individual and practice group strategic plans aimed to increase revenue
  • Developing customized pitch and proposal work (including coaching partners on pitch preparation)
  • Conducting analysis of various markets and competition

On the other hand, duties typically associated with the marketing function include:

  • Brand enhancement
  • Materials that support that brand
  • Website messaging and content

Asking for too little or too much experience

Understand the level of seniority you need for this position and overall function. Do partners need to be guided and coached on this function (which indicates a more senior strategist) or do they need help in executing on their already identified goals (which suggests a mid-level professional)?

Writing an unrealistic job description

When writing the job description, think about how you want to prioritize responsibilities. A common failing is writing the entire marketing or BD function in one job description, rather than one well-considered role that meets immediate needs, from which you can grow.

Lack of strategy

Think about your recruiting strategy. Do you know enough about the role to identify the right candidates? What are the most important qualifications? Prior experience? Technical expertise? Cultural fit?

You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know

The danger lies in attempting to build a marketing or BD team despite a lack of experience with the field. Avoid missteps by seeking advice from those experienced with defining and recruiting the right marketing and BD team for a firm like yours. At the same time, ask peers to share what they’ve learned in building out their departments.

I add this for your consideration: Marketing and BD professionals provide a different way to grow the firm, both through existing and new streams of revenue. They are not restricted by a finite number of billable hours. They are professionals focused on building relationships who will supplement your lawyers and who have the liberty of taking a long-term view of the firm to achieve — and hopefully, exceed — its strategic goals.

Armed with the knowledge that the timing is right to hire a marketing or BD professional, how do you go about looking for the right candidates? Read part two: “What to Look for When Hiring Your First Marketing Professional.”

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Categories: Business Development, Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Recruitment
Originally published September 27, 2022
Last updated April 11, 2023
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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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