Let’s talk about the problem with titles in legal marketing.
Many legal marketers take pride in their title as they can accurately reflect technical proficiency, seniority and credibility. There are, however, many examples where this is unfortunately not the case. This presents a tricky dilemma for many team leaders.
For example, is the experience of a legal marketer who holds the title of Business Development Director and who has 25 years of tenure the same as a legal marketer who holds the same title, but who has less tenure? Are the technical demands of a legal marketer who holds the title Senior Manager in a global firm the same as a Senior Manager in a mid-sized firm? Is a legal marketer who holds the title of Director and who manages a team of five in a mid-sized firm more or less qualified than a Director of a team of three in a large firm?
The problem is that there are no standardized rules that are applicable when determining what titles should be used when labeling legal marketers. This really matters because labels are truly just that. They stay with that professional throughout their whole career and people frequently judge others based on those labels. This is despite legal marketers all having different experience in variously sized firms and roles.
Further, layer onto this problem these two additional nuances. First, partners’ understanding about what titles are applicable at each level of a legal marketer is greatly different in each firm. This is because there is still a large variance on what partners think of and perceive marketing and BD roles to be in their firms; they have all started from a different place on the value of marketing. Secondly, firms are not always getting title-to-salary or title-to-experience information correct when making hiring decisions.
The need for standardization
I’ve asked two legal marketing veterans and CMOs to weigh in: John Byrne and Trish Lilley. Byrne and Lilley each have 30 years of experience leading marketing and BD teams in law firms. Additionally, both have held multiple leadership roles within LMA and currently lead their respective regions, the Midwest and Northeast respectively. Byrne is the CMO of Chicago firm Gould & Ratner and Lilley is the CMO of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan headquartered out of New York City.
Byrne agrees that many small, well-intentioned decisions on titles can lead to a confusing result: “Titles are always a bit of alchemy, especially in larger departments.” He adds “Any CMO wants to be able to build their department the way that it makes the most sense. But often internal processes and policies, and pay ranges, get in the way. Marketing pay ranges are often compared to other departments within the same firm.”
Lilley similarly shares this view: ”There’s a huge need for standardization in this area within legal marketing and business development”. She continues “While we (department heads/team leaders) can craft our own schemata within our firms, we face a dilemma when hiring because there is no uniformity relating to titles and roles across the industry. This makes the candidate assessment and getting stage of recruiting much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it should be, and that inefficiency often flows into the interview stage of the process as well.”
These comments go to the heart of addressing the lack of standardization that legal marketing leaders are faced with when hiring and building their teams. While the default is to compare and contrast on titles across the industry, when there is no uniformity on titles generally, this task is problematic.
The need for internal differentiation
In addition to the lack of standardization in legal marketing titles, I also frequently see team leaders struggle to deal with how to differentiate their existing team members to distinguish them and reward them based on their efforts and contributions.
Both Lilley and Byrne also weighed in on this difficult task.
Byrne talked about the limitations within the current structure of titles as we know them. He stated that “there are issues with layering people when they need to move up, but the titles don’t always help that if someone is already a Director, say.”
He continued on to acknowledge how tricky that really is, as these issues impact both the person you’re trying to change the title for to acknowledge their efforts, and then for the other people in the team who may feel slighted because of any title changes around them. He said that in practice what typically happens is that “the title can be the same, but the salary, bonus and raises are far different” for different team members. External people to that team or firm, however, won’t see this internal recognition.
Lilley shared her vantage point on how to adequately structure different team members’ titles, noting the difficulties with more junior legal marketers: “I do think that the greatest disparities and variations we in hiring roles see across positions are found in the ranks of coordinators and specialists. I have come across both very junior specialists and those so senior that they left those roles to take first-chair and/or client-facing positions at other firms. Coordinators and specialists are both non-exempt at certain firms and both exempt at others.”
This is a practical side effect of wrongly labeled professionals. They have to then explain their moves when seeking external advancement so they can be understood and placed into a certain title bucket that makes sense to the person hiring. And this works well if those buckets are neatly defined; unfortunately, that is often not the case.
Practical takeaways for team leaders to move forward
There are no easy answers to these issues. And proposing significant changes to these issues will of course take time to take effect and create the meaningful change that is needed.
Having said that, there are some takeaways that Lilley and Byrne shared that can help us all in the meantime:
For further consideration…
I’ll also add these five thoughts for your further consideration, especially when hiring professionals into your team.
Legal marketing titles can be accurate or they can be misleading. While we are all in this existing structure together, implement these takeaways to ensure greater consistency for our legal marketing professionals. They work hard and deserve a correctly labeled title and recognition from their peers and leaders.
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.