Posts Tagged ‘ career ’

Patience is a virtue for legal marketers

I’ve said it before, but for some reason I am always surprised when it comes true (again) for me:

On average, I have found that it takes about 18 months for a new legal marketing concept to be introduced before the law firm is ready to embrace or implement it.

And I know I have done my job well when a partner brings me his or her “new” idea, ready for implementation, knowing that I have been laying the seeds for months, if not years.

But patience, coupled with a good dose of humility, is not a common attribute for legal marketers.

Most of us are Type-A, go get ‘em kinda people. We like the fast pace and craziness that comes with working along side Type-A, go get ‘em kinda lawyers.

On average, a senior legal marketing professional lasts a little more than two years in a law firm. I believe a lot of this has to do with bad hiring and the goals not in alignment. However, I don’t think we can discount the “boredom” factor.

As a senior legal marketer, we enter a firm with assigned projects. It takes a couple years to complete those big projects at which point we’re ready for something new and exciting. However, the firm might not be ready for our latest and greatest vision. And this is when patience becomes a virtue, and a necessity, for legal marketers.

When I started my current position, Jillion Weisberg from HubbardOne took me to lunch. As we chatted about kids, politics, the latest products offered by her company, she had a thought provoking idea that has stuck with me, and which I’ll try and paraphrase below:

I’ve been watching you marketing people for a long time, and the problem is that you get to a new job and you have some great projects to implement. Once they are completed, you get bored and you start itching for the next great opportunity.

We talked a bit about the demographics of the current workforce and the opportunities that will become available as the baby boomers start to retire (this was a pre-recession conversation … I don’t think the Baby Boomers will ever retire now) and the benefits of staying put longer.

And, then she added this little bit of truth:

You’re not bored. You’re just good at your job. You know how things work in your firm, and you do them better, faster and smarter than you did before. Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy being successful?

Wow.

That was a new concept for me. I like being on the go, go, go. However, I’m at a smaller firm and it’s one project at a time here, and sometimes the firm and the attorneys just need to pause and take a break from administrative projects and just practice law.

I’ve been on the job now for 3.5 years. We’ve implemented many new programs and new ideas.

If I had followed the usual path of the senior legal marketer, I would have moved on to greener pastures by now. But I was patient. I worked on smaller projects. I fine tuned others that were already in place. I went on vacation.

Hanging around during the “absorbtion” phase was a difficult adjustment for me, but I was determined to implement my newly adopted philosphy of patience.

I have become willing to SLOWLY introduce new marketing concepts, see them take root, and then sit back and allow the firm to adjust to the resulting “culture” shifts.

And now the excitement begins all over again. An idea that I have been slowly seeding for some time has taken root. I got the call from a partner who has a BRILLIANT idea!

Graphic courtesy of http://thetalesfromthefairydust.blogspot.com/

Overcome the Fear of Transitioning: Make The List

I love being a legal marketer. However, it has its challenges, which usually revolve around personalities.

Several years ago I sat on an airplane, on my way to New York for a department retreat. In mid-flight I instinctively opened up my Blackberry and read an e-mail that just sent me for a loop, and I was done. That was it. I had had it. I was going to quit my job.

However, I was the breadwinner in our family, and there were two young children and a mortgage at home and I had to think rationally.

Flying over some fly-over state I weighed my options, and I made a list. It wasn’t a “pros and cons” list, but a list of “would I be okay if I just up and quit my job.”

I thought about my finances. Hmmm. I had X amount in the bank, my 401K (this was before the market crashed), equity in our home (once again, before the market crashed). Worse case scenario, we sell everything and move in with my mother-in-law at the beach in Newport. I could live with that.

Then I started thinking about my network and I crafted an e-mail. I let them know that I was leaving my firm, taking some time off, and here was my contact information.

I was amazed at how large my network had grown over the years as I sent that e-mail off to hundreds of people.

Then the calls and e-mails started. I didn’t hear “are you okay” on the other line, I heard “wow, can you help me out with this project,” “are you available to consult with me on ….”

During that summer, I had several friends, colleagues and former work associates send me projects WITHOUT my soliciting them. They just knew I was available.

I, in turn, took a summer vacation, began a yoga practice, and slowly made a choice as to where I wanted to be professionally.

So, why this retrospective? I just read Nat Slavin’s article Make The List, which recounts his process of overcoming the fear of transitioning from his role as a legal publisher to what was then an unknown future.

I sat down at my desk with pen and paper and started writing down every name of every person who I thought cared enough about me to help me both personally and professionally. Without opening my address book I wrote down 357 names of people who had entered my life during the past decade and a half who I knew would take my call, and listen to my questions, and most importantly offer advice. These were the people whose life I had entered through both professional and personal circumstances. Friends from high school, relatives and of course folks in my professional network; in the simplest of terms, and I had never thought about the value of my personal network.
I was liberated. I didn’t realistically believe that all of these people would actually be able to offer me anything more than peace of mind. But if one percent, just 3 or 4, took a real interest in my professional development and served as a confidant or mentor, I would find my way. I would be able to, with confidence, enter the next stage of my life.
That list was a gift. So, I offer to all of you the tremendously liberating power of creating The List. Think of those whose lives you have been a part of, whose journey you have supported, and those whose respect you have earned. Make your own list, and know that if you got stuck, there will be names on The List, the members of your tribe, who will be there for you.
What my personal journey taught me is that, in the end, the most freeing decisions are ones that are made without fear.
When I realized that I could quit my job and 1) not end up homeless and 2) had a network to support me, I was able to walk away on my terms. I was able to choose my next job based on whether or not it was a good fit v. a good pay check. I’ve been at my current firm for 2.5 years, and I just love these people. It is the perfect place for me, at this perfect time in my life.
So, who’s on your list?

Always a JD, Never a Lawyer

The ABA Journal has an article reflecting on what happened to the 150,000 law school grads that never passed the bar.

Turns out that their lives suck for the first five years, but that they eventually bounce back, but never to the degree as their peer:

Jane Yakowitz, director of a project at UCLA law school that studies affirmative action preferences in higher education, summarizes her findings in a new research paper (PDF). She found that five years out of law school, law grads who fail the bar lag behind lawyers in terms of earnings, employment stability, and even marriage and divorce rates. They also do worse than college graduates who never went to law school.

“But after an initial adjustment period, they spring back and out-perform the average college graduate for the later half of their careers,” Yakowitz writes. “Though they never catch up to their lawyer peers, the earnings of the median bar-failer does catch up to the 25th percentile lawyer.”

Ms. Yahowitz’s rightly concludes that it is important to study what happens to those who never pass the bar as they make up a significant portion of students graduating law school.

This void is somewhat understandable. Bar-failers are hard to study. They’re the invisible JDs. They’re less likely to respond to law school alumni surveys, and state bars have little incentive to follow their careers. But bar-failers are difficult to track for the same reasons we ought to make the effort. They make up a significant portion of graduating law school classes, and we don’t know what they do, how many of them there are, and whether their experiences with the bar caused long-lasting detriment to their lives. This is the first serious attempt to understand the impact of failing the bar exam.

I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee and reading the study, The Marooned Law School Graduate: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduate that Fail the Bar Exam, in its entirety for there are numerous nuances and items of note. It should give pause to anyone who is considering incurring the substantial debt associated with a J.D.

On page 15 of the study, for instance, Ms. Yahowitz points out that while there continues to be an increase in J.D. degrees, there is not a correlating increase in lawyers:

The decrease in lawyering rates could be a sign that the JD degree has broadened its applicability to other fields, giving law graduates more choice in their career paths. A less optimistic (and, regrettably, more plausible) explanation, borne out by the layoffs and hiring patterns in the legal market today, is that the legal profession was shrinking during a period that legal education continued to expand. (emphasis added)

Law schools MUST address these issues, from the law school graduates who never passes the bar to the lack of jobs upon graduation. It is unconscionable that law schools continue to admit more students than our current marketplace can absorb. These young men and women need this information so that they can choose to make an informed decision before rolling the dice.

Where’s the Summer Lovin’?

The summer’s coming to an end on the east coast, and the summer offers aren’t rolling in as they have in the past (law.com subscription required). In California, our summer nights are in full swing for at least another month, but the news, I’m certain, isn’t heart warming for the summer associates.

Having worked in the legal industry for 13 years (11 in legal marketing), I cannot allow this new “trend” to take hold without shining the bright light of WARNING CAUTION BEWARE CHANGE COURSE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE PLAN BE FLEXIBLE.

When coupled with the summer associate classes being considerable smaller this year, the job offer rate looks downright frightening. Here in California, we’re talking 60-80%, down from the prior 90% averages.

In another blow to the job prospects of top law students, summer associate offer rates are down significantly at many big California firms.

While some firms are still compiling numbers, most offer rates are in the range of 60 to 85 percent, but one firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, offered jobs to only 30 percent of summer associates.

That’s down from an average of more than 90 percent in recent years at most firms. The National Association for Law Placement reported in February that in 2008, the summer offer rate dipped to its lowest rate since 2003 — to 90 percent.

Firms that were still in the 90s this year include Latham & Watkins and Morrison & Foerster, while Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Nixon Peabody dipped below 80 percent.

The trend is a double blow to students, after a summer in which firms invited 30 to 50 percent fewer students to join their programs.

Let’s be honest. In years past, you had to be a total loser, a-hole or made a complete fool of yourself when drunk to not get an offer letter.

Robert Depew, managing director of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s San Francisco office, said in the past, the major hurdle for law students was obtaining a summer associate offer with a reputable firm, not getting an offer of full-time employment at the end of the summer. This year, firms have raised the bar, and even smart and polished associates won’t make the cut.

“In years past, every summer associate was essentially guaranteed an offer unless he or she completely dropped the ball on work projects or totally shocked decision makers with abhorrent social behavior,” Depew said. “In fact, most firms maintained a tradition of going to extraordinary lengths to ensure 100 percent offer rates wherever possible. And the failure to obtain an offer at the end of the summer was a professional ‘kiss of death’ for law students.”

Times they are a changing, and new trends, they are a brewing. A legal education no longer guarantees that one will become a lawyer, in the traditional sense. Many of these young men and women who are in law school today will never receive that golden offer letter, and their path, upon graduation, will not be clear.

Law school placement and career centers need to open up a conversation on alternative career options, and career paths, than the traditional law firm model. These can include going small/solo, contract attorneys, teaching, legislative analysts, paralegals, journalism … marketing, technology and librarians, too.

Welcome to the Legal Marketing Neighborhood: Credibility

When a CMO enters a new law firm, their credibility quotient is ZERO. According to Roberta Montafia, a CMO needs to “be prepared to prove yourself – don’t expect to be accepted by the partners just because they hired you.”

Don’t depend on what transpired in the interviews, the job description or written objectives. During the courtship, both parties may lack clarity of expectations. In a law firm, expectations can sometimes change without notifying you. Factions in the firm may have separate sets of expectations that don’t match those of the firm management or your boss. Dealing with competing priorities of partners is determined by the politics of the organization.

Jayne Navarre, Director, Law Gravity LLC
www.virtualmarketingofficer.com

Once a new CMO gets off that elevator, no one will care about their degrees or pedigree of former employers. A new CMO must build their credibility from scratch, on day one, with each partner. As they walk into that conference room for the group lunch, and are walked through the halls for one-on-one introductions, they will be viewed with apprehension.

Yesterday I posted three great “welcomes” to a new CMO from Tim Corcoran, Nat Slavin and Frank Moon. Today it’s all about law firm culture and building credibility.

Frank had a great point: a CMO must “Adjust your mindset — and success expectations — to the real firm culture, not the culture described on the website.”

LAW FIRM CULTURE

Temper a sense of urgency about change with patience as you learn what the firm both expects and will tolerate. Do not rush decisions or be rushed into them, but respond to questions about what’s ahead with “Well, what do you think is important?” Lawyers expect confidence and leadership, yet are rarely easily led.

Russell Lawson, Marketing Director

Sands Anderson Marks & Miller

Take your time to make change, and identify/discover the landscape before you do make change including the politics (interoffice, interpractice) management (firm, office and practice group) and subversive leaders (rain makers, associate leaders, former management and the mist-maker up-and-comers). Remember that the law firm is not a corporate environment. Every partner has the perception that their issue is the most important, and they can derail projects without the effective canvassing/lobbying. (emphasis added).

David Bruns, Director of Marketing

Farella Braun + Martel

BUILDING A CMO’S CREDIBILITY

Building credibility begins before you accept the position.

Things like obtaining, in writing, signed by [managing partner]: a clear mission with objective, measurable success criteria correlate the marketing budget to firm priorities; definition of what partners are accountable for, and how [managing partner] will enforce compliance/authorization.

Mike O’Horo, Partner, Sales Results, Inc.

Mike also cautions the new CMO to beware of partners walking into your office “saying anything about RFP responses, charity tables, or anything that smacks of the lawyers expecting you to generate business without them doing any personal selling.”

Personally, I have to agree with former “marketing director of the year” Laura Meherg of the Wicker Park Group that you need to work directly with the firm’s “Chair/Managing Partner to help you prioritize early projects and attack them with laser like focus to achieve some early accomplishments and wins.”

And, finally, Ed Poll, Coach, Consultant & Author, Law Biz Management Company reminds the new CMO:

Be sure to get the support of your top management from the beginning … and do what is needed to be assured on a continuing basis of their top support. Without
that, you will be able to do nothing more than punch the clock.

These first 90 days are all about learning the ins-and-outs of the firm’s culture, internal politics, and establishing your credibility.

Welcome to the Legal Marketing Neighborhood

Yesterday’s AmLaw Daily included The Churn: CMO Edition mentioning the arrival of Orrick’s new CMO, Jeanne Sdroulas.

I asked a diverse group of my legal marketing peers (current and former CMOs, consultants, in-house professionals, service providers) what advice they would have for an incoming CMO.

I am so impressed by the incredible insights my peers brought forward that I will have to write several blog posts to ensure that all the comments are included.

AVOID THE MINE FIELDS
For anyone walking into the law firm environment for the first time they will be shocked and challenged by the culture. A former CMO, and now consultant to AmLaw 100 law firms noted: “I can think of only two [law firms] (Latham & Watkins and King & Spalding) where any non-legal Messiah lasted more than 18-24 months inside legal.” (emphasis added).

So, how can a “non-legal” CMO break through the average length of tenure and join Latham’s Despina Kartson and King & Spalding’s Katherine D’urso.

Over the next few days I’m going to post some words of welcome, wisdom and advice from my peers, many of whom have sat in the same seat as Ms. Sdroulas and know exactly what she, and other new CMOs, can anticipate, good and bad. This diverse group, including me, has had successes and failures, but we have all learned from them, picked up and continued on in the legal marketing profession.

Welcome to a world where each day you will be as challenged intellectually by the external complexities of marketing a global services business in a crowded field as you will emotionally by the internal complexities of gaining consensus and driving change in an enterprise long accustomed to avoiding both. Your corporate experience will be invaluable in establishing a vision for a well-run marketing organization, but like the book says keep in mind all that you learned in kindergarten as a guide for how to play with others and get things done, one small victory at a time. You are not alone, and I encourage you to learn from those who have previously faced the challenges you face, but also educate us so we can benefit from your experience. Good luck!

Timothy B. Corcoran, Senior Consultant, Altman Weil, Inc.

Manage your own expectations, find internal champions, make sure your seat at the table is not a booster seat, manage your partner’s expectations, treat your team/staff better than you have ever been treated by a boss, never surprise your partners, and pick battles worth fighting, but never pick a fight.

Nathaniel E. Slavin, Partner, Wicker Park Group

Adjust your mindset – and success expectations – to the real firm culture, not the culture described on the website.

In 1990 I first started working in a partnership environment with accounting giant KPMG. The decision-making culture was much more horizontal than I ever anticipated. It wasn’t “corporate” at all; it was a “partnership.”

Partners opted in or opted out of programs for which I had gotten mandated approval to implement firm wide – and the partners’ reasons for participating or not were as individual as their DNA, as individual as their practices.

So, come to understand the real dynamic of the Orrick partnership: where is Orrick on the spectrum between A) a unified and integrated strategy-driven approach to the marketplace and Z) a loose confederation of sole practitioners who choose to give up 40-60% of their originations in order to have someone handle the administrative details?

Frank B. Moon, Sr. Executive Recruiter and Partner

Executive Placement Solutions. A former law firm marketing director.

Class Act … White & Case

Another AmLaw 100 firm, this time #6 White & Case, has announced layoffs. 70 associates and 100 staff. An internal memo was posted by our friends at Above the Law:

As part of its planning for 2009, White & Case LLP is reviewing its global operations against current and anticipated market conditions and expected client needs. While the Firm anticipates a strong 2008, with significant revenue growth across our globally diverse network, we are exercising prudent business judgment and taking several steps in advance of what is likely to be a significantly weakened global economy in 2009.

Among these actions, the Firm is reducing its global legal and nonlegal headcount by about 3% from current levels, or notifying employees that they are at risk of redundancy. These reductions are being driven in large part by a decline in attrition rates. Those who have been asked to leave will receive a competitive severance package.

“We are living in a time of unique economic challenges, and well-managed, successful businesses, including White & Case, must assess their operations in light of current market realities,” said White & Case chairman Hugh Verrier. “We believe this is a necessary step to adjust to the global economic downturn and to ensure a strong, long-term future for the Firm.”

While layoffs are never pleasant, they are part of our economic reality today. Indicators point to the fact that we are just at the beginning, and other firms will use the cover of White & Case to similarly right-size their business operations.

When it comes to law firm layoffs, I believe that there are three classes of employees:

  • Those who are redundant and will quickly make the short list during a lay off.
  • Those who are valuable and will quickly be categorized as “safe.”
  • And then there are all the rest.

It’s your job. If you are lumped in the “rest” category, what are you doing to become valuable? What are you going to do today to ensure that you and your career are not redundant?

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