On September 4, 2007, I got off the elevator on the 47th floor of this ivory tower and set about creating a marketing and business development program for Barger & Wolen LLP as their first marketing director. It has been quite a journey. We survived a recession; changes to our clients’ industry; the advent of social media; the passing of the torch from one generation to the next; and a merger with an AmLaw 200 firm.
It’s been seven years, five months, 16 days, and in a couple hours I will leave behind my keycard and a lot of memories as I head to Century City and take the helm of the marketing operations for another firm (details on Monday).
Today is about reflecting on my experiences and what working for this firm has meant to me, and a few of the life and business lessons that I am taking with me.
When I first started out in legal marketing, the average tenure of a legal marketer was about 2.5 years, and my resume affirms that this was true for me as well.
A couple years ago, while serving on the Legal Marketing Association’s board of directors, we ran the numbers: Approximately 3/4 of LMA membership turns over every four years. With a membership of more than 3000, that’s a lot of people. Some stay in the industry, not renewing their memberships, but many more leave.
I have come to learn that it takes a certain type of personality to stay and work in-house as a senior legal marketer year in and year out. Most senior legal marketers jump out to consult at some point. More just jump out to other industries along the way.
Having been at my firm for almost 7.5 years I have a new perspective on the advantages afforded both the law firm and the legal marketer that comes with longevity in the role.
Deeper and personal relationships = honest conversations
I was speaking with a partner last week and he remarked that I spoke to him like his wife does. Smiling I replied we worked together longer than most marriages last.
My longevity at my firm has allowed me to build true and personal relationships with many of the lawyers that extend beyond nine to five and Facebook. I have the ability to walk into a partner’s office and tell him or her the truth, or ask the difficult questions, sometimes in a not too subtle way.
Deeper and personal relationships allow us to speak candidly with one another. While we might not always agree, we are honest with one another.
Culture changes take time
In Leading Change, the author suggests that it takes three to 10 years to shift culture. Without longevity in a position the legal marketer will either never affect a culture change, or will never see the fruits of their labor. For me, seeing those changes has been the most rewarding aspect of my job and tenure at the firm.
I often tell the story of a senior partner who raised his voice at me during my first few weeks at the firm. He had no interest in this “marketing mumbo-jumbo” and didn’t understand why we had to do it. Fast forward seven years and our conversation turned to how I had to “come along” in the merger because of my importance and value to him, his practice, and the firm.
I could have missed it all.
A true team allows you to get things done
In law firms the lawyer default in regards to business development always circles back to “cross-selling.” Truth be told, cross-selling rarely works. Why? Because there is no team. You cannot throw a group of people in a room and expect them to give away something they have in hopes of getting something that really isn’t guaranteed from someone they do not really know, perhaps they do not like, and who they definitely do not trust.
It’s the same with the administrative departments. We compete against one another for resources (time, money, people). But for a well-run firm, you need these departments to work collaboratively to create a functioning business, and time affords you the opportunity to develop these teams, and there is nothing like a challenge to bring everyone together.
I don’t know any firm that over the course of 7.5 years did not have a challenge or 10 to over come. Revenues down. Recession. Boom times in the wrong area. Scandals. Partner departures. Layoffs. Market crashes. Office moves. A merger. All of these provide opportunity for the administrative leaders to band together and solidify themselves as a team working on common goals.
Last year my firm supported my participation in the SmithBucklin Leadership Institute. It was a lot of time out of the office: five trips to Chicago over the course of six months. Prior to that the firm supported my leadership role on LMA’s board of directors, with four in-person board meetings per year and lots of office hours devoted to my projects.
My eye has now turned towards George Washington University’s Masters in Law Firm Management program. It’s going to be impossible to convince a group of strangers that they should welcome and support sending me away for what constitutes a couple weeks of additional paid time off to do something that may or may not provide a direct benefit to the firm.
For me to do this I will need the support of my new firm. But I have to earn the that support, and that will take time. I won’t make it there for 2016, but I’ll get there.
It’s a truly bittersweet day today. I have packed up my boxes, cleaned out my paper and digital files, tranfered my documents from the older Barger & Wolen server to the new firm’s system, and transitioned my active projects amongst the team back east.
One thing I do know is that my shoes will be filled, and that’s a good and healthy thing. They might not be filled by someone who appreciates Stuart Weitzman as much as I do, or by someone who sees things the way that I see them, but that person will bring their own personality, traits, ideas, and energy to the team here.
And that is perhaps the last things I have learned through staying in my position as long as I have:
Sometimes it’s the right time to go
Marketing is a creative position. You have to grow as a legal marketer, or you will be of no benefit to your firm or your attorneys. But sometimes you have moved the ball as far as you can and it’s going to take someone else to pick it up and take the lead. Stay too long and you become a liability.
I leave here today having done the best job that I could every day for seven years, five months, and 16 days.