As featured in Attorney at Work on June 27, 2019
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 Its the Right Time to Hire
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:
Having identified the need to build a marketing or BD function, it’s important to avoid some common missteps in implementing that plan:
1. 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:
On the other hand, duties typically associated with the marketing function include:
2. 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)?
3. Writing and 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.
4. 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? Stay tuned for part two.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.