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EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES

EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES > Chief Marketing Officer: The Law Firm Change Agent (Part Two)

EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES

CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER:
THE LAW FIRM CHANGE AGENT
(PART TWO)






Roundtable London

Following on from our recent CMO roundtable in New York, The Legal 500 and Bernero & Press held a follow up discussion in England in July. We discussed some of the issues that came up in New York at our secret location in central London, and much more besides, with a group of experienced CMOs. Again, the names have been anonymised so there could be a (very) frank discussion.

David Burgess, Publishing Director, The Legal 500;
Yolanda Cartusciello, Bernero & Press



David Burgess:

Thank you for coming today. As you know, I am the publishing director of The Legal 500, and increasingly I am responsible for some of the new initiatives that we are doing at Legal 500 that complement the directory business, and obviously this is a key part of that. It is very important to look across law firms and the legal industry as a whole and provide our audience with more information. If you look at the GC Powerlist series that we have been doing, they been incredibly helpful for GCs, saying, ‘This really helps us internally’. We also hope this helps the marketing/BD functions internally across law firms around the world, because, if I am being honest, they need it. I hope everyone who reads the transcript of this will be able to learn something, and that includes partners.

This obviously follows on from our discussion in New York. When Yolanda and I did the discussion in New York, we thought we knew roughly what everyone was going to say – and we were wrong. Some of the things that came out of that surprised us. We were surprised by the types of firms that were saying the things they were saying. We thought it would be different.

There was one area in particular that cropped up that we were really surprised by, and that would be a good starting point for today. Broadly, it is the engagement that the marketing and BD teams have with clients. The first part we talked about was client interviews. One of the things that we were discussing there was whether the CMOs get to talk directly to the clients, what they talk to them about and how they do the interviews etc. It would be interesting to get your take on how your firms do the client interviews – feedback etc. – and how involved you and your teams are, and how involved you think you should be.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I can kick off from my experience, and then people can jump in, and maybe there is a point of contrast for you.

At both of my two former firms, which is the phrase I will be using now that we are being taped, the marketing team – and I in particular – were very involved, having set the stage for it and convinced the firm to do it both times – twice at my last firm. We did a repeat of a very large programme. With the formal pieces, I had a lot of contact with clients, partly because I was setting up a lot of this and partly because clients would come in a lot for various reasons, and I did get to meet them over a period of time.

I did not personally conduct the formal interviews, because we liked to use someone from the outside to do that. It gave clients the opportunity to have frank discussions with someone who was not part of our team and then edit back a little as necessary. I know that is not any different from clients speaking to me – at least from my perspective – but I understood that was important to them. We gave them that opportunity; that was the way we handled it, which does mean certainly that there is a bit more distance between my relationship with them and the outside consultant’s relationship with them in having these conversations.

We did a lot more informal things in between the large formal ones, and that is where I would have a lot of conversations with them. However, my senior team members did not have nearly as much interaction as I would have liked but for a few instances with a few practices, where they very much appreciated by the partners and clients asked for it. We had a certain number of clients in one particular industry who wanted the marketing person to come and spend the day with them when they were doing their daily law-firm day. This person would get invited to go along to that and was an integral part of it. However, it was not the same for other practices and that person was not as visible to the client. I would say that it varied a bit.

The client experience: how we deliver the best of our firm to each client in a way that feels that it is bespoke and which feels that it is specific to that client – and not only feels that way but is specific to that client – while maintaining some sense of standards across the firm in how we deliver legal services. Another big challenge that I personally had over the last few years and that I am hearing from a number of people is that there are lots of projects and lots of things to get done but not a lot of staff members. I know that it may feel like a tired refrain for us, but it is real. How, then, do we get the things done that we need to get done? How do we make change to a culture? At the end of the day, I feel like that is at the core of everything that we all have done. We are marketing people but we are really change-management people, in a sense.

CMO1:

We deal on three levels. Similarly, we will have a third party, because it is that one step removed, and the clients and firms feel more comfortable talking honestly and openly with someone they do not necessarily have a day-to-day relationship with. Increasingly, we try to put our own people into those conversations, and then there are some partners who just will not open up their clients to anybody other than themselves – decreasingly so, as more and more partners see the value of it being done at relative arm’s length. However, it does tend to happen on a client-by-client, case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the relationship with the client as a whole and the individuals within the organisation. It is not one-size-fits-all with us.

‘When I joined the firm, the concept of independently speaking to a partner’s client about the relationship was frowned upon. It still is very difficult for some, but increasingly it is the norm and it is growing quite rapidly.’

CMO2:

Professional law-firm marketing is later arriving than in other sectors. When I was at xxx, we would do 600 client experience interviews a year globally, and I would conduct a significant number of those as the CMO. When I joined the firm, the concept of independently speaking to a partner’s client about the relationship was frowned upon. It still is very difficult for some, but increasingly it is the norm and it is growing quite rapidly.

Similarly to what you have just said, there is feedback at two levels: there is matter feedback, so straight after the matter closes. It is easier to get involved in that, but it is quite technical, so I am not entirely sure the marketing team can do a lot to support matter feedback, although we can play a role I suspect.

On relationship feedback, that is where the real value is. However, I think a lot of the partners think in the corporate world you can only speak to the GC to get a point of view. I disagree with that. Every single interaction with anybody at a client is meaningful and of value.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

Correct.

CMO2:

Particularly in banks, you might have many ‘work givers’ around the world; and each one of those has a view about the relationship with your firm . On the marketing side, to your question, we have made real progress and said, ‘Look, we will set the meeting up – we will get it organised – and we will go along with you: prep you, take the notes, and then feed back to the client team.’ That has gone down well and started to get some traction.

Where it is happening the partners are very happy with it.

David Burgess:

Have you seen a different kind of feedback when marketing go in, as opposed to partners?

CMO3:

Bringing the team in can help create a bit more consistency around that interview. If it is a partner who is having a one-on-one conversation, they might have a detailed discussion and get some useful feedback and another partner will go and have another conversation with another client and also get feedback but without some consistency and standardised procedures there is no read across or opportunity to see where the trends are. Even if you give partners a discussion guide or something along those lines, there is no guarantee it will be entirely followed.

If you really want to look at how the firm is doing across key metrics – I am not talking about numbers here but things that you consider important regarding progress in the business – then the involvement of the marketing team can be particularly helpful.

CMO2:

There has been a tendency in the past for these interviews to result in an over detailed assessment of the client. Unfortunately it is so bespoke it has little apart from to the client team. To your point about read across, we tried to assess different areas: ‘we are responsive’, ‘we communicate well’, ‘there are no billing surprises’ – all those sorts of classic things that you would measure and tried to score them one to five, but that has proved very difficult to make happen. It’s a shame as the read across multiple interviews is so much more impactful and actionable if there is a degree of consistency across the style and format of the interviews.

David Burgess

You are absolutely right. When you have those sorts of interviews as well, the clients will say, ‘Look, it has gone wrong with one of your people. I do not enjoy the relationship now,’ or, ‘There is an issue.’ First, how you deal with that? Secondly, when you are talking to the partners about feedback etc., how receptive are they to constructive criticism? We found in the United States that it is very difficult to tell partners where things are not going well.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

The way we handled it was that I would sit with the consultant, just the two of us, in the room with the partner. We would not have more senior partners in the room. We would not have practice heads or management committee or other people who were in charge in any way. The consultant and I would provide the feedback that the consultant had received. I would then try to contextualise it by saying, ‘This is within the realm of the kinds of pieces of feedback we have received for other partners,’ or, ‘This is really an outlier and we really need to address this.’ We would go in with a strategy of how we were going to resolve the issue before we delivered the feedback. The resolution discussion would often involve other people in the firm, more senior people, but the idea was to keep this as calm and low-key as possible by just having me and the consultant provide the feedback to the partner.

The partner clearly knew the most senior members of the firm had heard the feedback already. We tried to make it as palatable as possible. Only once did one partner really bristle and give us a hard time about the feedback, and then the consultant basically put the partner in his place, and then the partner listened more carefully.

David Burgess:

Have you had the same experience?

CMO3:

I do not own that piece, so I cannot comment. I understand that it really varies a lot from one partner to the next, and probably, as CMO2 said earlier, some practices and markets are just culturally more averse to somebody giving them feedback that is anything other than, ‘You were astronomically good.’ It can be quite challenging, but we are trying to position things very much in the context of this not being about beating people up. This is about us moving forward as a team, and the question is: can you make the surrounding individual performance metrics support that message? If it does not – if it looks like if you get a bad relationship review, you are going to have a bad performance review – then that is when people start to get very tense.

David Burgess

We have seen that in the past with firms that when they are doing client interviews, the partners that go along and do them, basically want someone to say, ‘You did a really great job,’ and that is it. They are not really asking the right questions. They just want that pat on the back. Would you say it is more of a practice-by-practice issue rather than an age issue with partners who have been used to doing things for 20 years?

CMO3:

I do not think it is just an age issue, no.

CMO2:

No, definitely not.

CMO3:

I do not think so. We are putting some additional structures around the client teams so there is more support for the lead relationship partners in terms of other senior partners. Going back to the internal context in which those messages are being given, that makes quite a big difference because it is a more supportive learning environment. Sometimes it is probably a bit too supportive. However, it is trying to set the tone of: ‘How do we improve this together?’ rather than, ‘You, where have you gone wrong?’ and that makes a big difference.

CMO4:

It depends whether you view feedback as purely a reading on the quality of the relationship team – do you look after the client well and is the client satisfied? – or whether you position this with the partners as a useful tool for business development. I have not had this situation but I can imagine if the feedback is that there is a fundamental chemistry issue, you have to tackle it – but probably not with the client partner. However, if there is feedback coming back saying things could be better in various ways, often the way to handle those conversations is to say, ‘Look, we would be doing better with this client,’ or, ‘You would be looking after a stronger more vibrant relationship if we did these things,’ and position that as just good business-development practice. Those conversations are pretty easily accepted.

‘We are putting some additional structures around the client teams so there is more support for the lead relationship partners in terms of other senior partners.’

CMO2:

This conversation is of interest, but I was going to try to take it into a slightly different area. The truth is that 99.5% of the feedback is great. I mean, it is. The occasions when you have to have that difficult conversation are so rare that we are at risk of debating something that happens pretty rarely, frankly. One area where we do not get feedback, and if you believe that profitable revenue growth is the name of the game it is an area of real importance– is when you have done a pitch and you have won or lost it. Marketing could so easily capture this vital information, The partner asking the client is not always going to get to the real reasons for a loss, but by asking independently, as the marketing person who put the pitch document together, ‘Why did we win?’ or, ‘Why did we lose?’ you would learn so much that would enhance your ability to win more business. If revenue is the name of the game, if I was going to put my energies anywhere –

David Burgess:

I was going to ask the very question: ‘Have you been doing that?’

CMO2:

If you are going to put your energy anywhere, that surely is where it should be.

CMO1:

An integral part of our pitch process is that the person in charge of bid management does the start and the end of the bid process. It is the phone call to the client at the start: ‘What is it that you are really after? Okay, you have sent out this RFI, RFP, to 30 firms. Okay. What lies beneath that? I really want to understand exactly what it is that you are after from your relationship with a law firm.’ At the end, win or lose, like you say, it is, ‘How did we do? What was the pitch document like? What were our partners like in the presentation? What did we do well? What did we not do so well?’ That then gets shared around not just the pitch team but everybody in the marketing team – anybody who has any point of interaction with that process.

CMO2:

We have the front-end correct, right up to the delivery of the final pitch document and rehearsals with the partners – everything. We have come light years, I would say, because we have really changed our whole process. However, we do not have that end piece collected on anything like a consistent basis.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I find what you said interesting, and I want to tie it back to what you were saying, in that studies – take them for what they are worth – demonstrate that when you have lost a pitch, if you ask the question as to why, you get better feedback at that point. Often there is someone at the firm, the company, the organisation or whatever it is that did not choose you who feels bad about it and therefore will be more likely to be open and provide you with honest feedback as to why. Often it is price but you get an honest answer at that point.

CMO4:

It would be statistically improbable that we would all be losing all our lost pitches because of price. Getting underneath that would be very valuable.

David Burgess:

Actually, from speaking to GCs and buyers of legal services, they want to tell you. They want to have that conversation, because they want everybody to get better.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

Yes, they do.

David Burgess

It is much less adversarial than it was, so there is a cultural shift there. If you are not tapping into that, it is absolutely essential you do.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I would also say that it helps if you can get a combination of the GC or a designee of the GC, the COO of legal for some of the larger organisations that we are dealing with, and procurement. I must say, procurement sometimes gets a bad rap. When we talk about these things, they are very open and honest. I am not saying they are always right. I am not saying I always agree with them, but I find they are very open about having the conversation with you about what it is they want and what it is they did not get at the end of it.

David Burgess

I hear from procurement specialists in larger organisations that they are very used to procuring all sorts of things, but legal is an area where they do not know enough and they would like some help as well. If you are smart about it, you can get in there early. Every time we hear most partners, they say, ‘I hate procurement,’ and a lot of GCs will say, ‘I hate procurement.’ However, they are there, they are going to be involved, so work with them.

CMO2:

There is this philosophical argument about how much face time marketing people should have with clients. On the one hand it is philosophical; we would love more of it, but my question is: where would we add any value in front of the client? It is pointless saying, ‘We are marketing people. We should be in front of the client because it would be a nice thing to do.’ Why would you do it?

Client feedback is one, feedback on pitches is another, but just coming to the point you made about COOs, one of the areas that we have really made traction on is managing the operational side of the relationship with the client directly – the COO of the legal function. For certain clients we have significant face time with them, but it is not the lawyering side; it is the operational side. The relationship partners say, ‘Look, I would much rather your team was going through the pricing, checking this, checking that, setting this up, setting that up.’ The marketing function should be oiling the wheels of that relationship.

CMO4:

It shows that those are very important parts of the service proposition. Sometimes when we take feedback we get back things that I guess most lawyers would not have considered to be core to their service offering: for example the accuracy and timeliness of billing typically come top of that list. Therefore, when we get that feedback the onus is on us to do what we would do with any customer feedback, which is to analyse it thematically to understand the main things we should be doing to improve the service proposition and then to bring those ideas to the business. It is this dual use of it: it helps a specific relationship team do a better job but it also should say, ‘What are the priorities the organisation should have in terms of serving all its clients in a better way?’

CMO3:

To pick up on that idea, quite often an idea that client service is just about delivering the legal advice. But it is not just about the relationship between the lawyers; it's also about what happens on the operational side. We are not even in the foothills yet in thinking about what interface there should be between the finance functions, the IT functions, secretaries – across the whole organisation - if you want law firms to become much more client-centric in the way they think about clients’ interests. Everybody in the organisation needs to think about what their role is in relation to clients and what good client service really looks like. The other people in the business – not just the lawyers - have to understand the client. It does not mean they all have to be constantly meeting clients and certainly not going to meetings with the lawyers, but you have to bring more of the potential interfaces together.

CMO2:

It is so interesting you say that. I am in favour of wrapping yourself all around the client and having contacts with the client at every single level, because the client finds it much more difficult to move away from you when you have so many contact points.

Completely spontaneously, we always get the most amazing client feedback about one group of people in our firm, and that is the front-of-house staff.

CMO4:

That is an area where you would naturally think that the experience has to be great. However, we have other areas for example financial reporting. We live in a world that is getting ever more data hungry and in which large organisations like investment banks want to understand the nature of their relationship. They need reports, that shows where they are spending money with their lawyers, and typically these are not the standard reports that our systems easily produce. It's important to have an experience that satisfies these needs now, and to consider how they will evolve over the next two or three years.

CMO3:

Going back to the whole point about having a more systematised approached to client feedback, if there is an individual partner getting that feedback in a client-relationship discussion, it is quite hard to get the organisation to understand this is not just a problem with X or Y client; this is a problem about how we are doing this process. You, as another function who does not consider yourself to be client facing, have to get that sorted out.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

That is absolutely right.

CMO3:

We can work together to fix it, because it is rarely just two people not doing something right.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I ran a session recently for a variety of lawyers and marketing people and some COOs within law firms in New York on client journey mapping. I am just curious whether that is something your organisations are starting to approach, or are you already doing that? It is a shorthand phrase, as you all know, for ensuring that the client experience from beginning to end – hopefully there is never an end – is as efficient and pleasant for them as possible.

CMO4:

We give some of that. My sense is it tends to concentrate with new clients and the first 100 days. We are quite preoccupied with: ‘What should your first 100 days as a new client look like?’ There is a structured series of meetings and planning around the work we are going to do. Then on the other side, for clients in client management programmes, again there are certain things that are a feature, with a six-monthly frequency as part of that. However, I do not know that we have looked at the totality of the experience. In a way, things like the finance reports and the fact that people still get surprised about the quality of the billing, suggests that there is much work to do there in terms of thinking about what it should be like to interact with the firm.

‘We are not Amazon, we do not need a website with a shopping cart. However, we are a professional services firm, so we do need to present our best thinking. You need an assessment across a whole number of dimensions.’

Yolanda Cartusciello:

Or even the technological experience with a law firm, right? Honestly, for some firms, certainly in the United States, it comes as a big surprise when they get that feedback, because they are very much in their own box and they do not realise just how bad an experience it could be for a client dealing with them technologically.

David Burgess

Do you ever ask clients about their experiences with other firms and what you can learn from their experiences with other firms?

CMO2:

I do not think we do particularly. It might come up in a conversation from time to time.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

That was always a question in all our interviews.

David Burgess

If a client is saying, ‘This firm does this particularly well,’ surely you should be asking them, ‘Why do they do it well? Can we understand that so we can get better at it?’

CMO1:

It is never a specific question for us, I do not think, but most of the feedback we get will be relative to their experience somewhere else. It is going to be set in the context of what they are getting from X other firm, Y other firm or whatever.

David Burgess:

Do you know which other firms they are?

CMO1:

No, no. We will not ask that question specifically unless they offer that.

CMO2:

Certainly, some complex matters we deal with are multi-jurisdiction or multi-practice. There is probably only a handful of firms that can do them anyway, and you know that you are up against the best,. I am not saying there is no value in asking it, but you sort of know.

CMO3:

You hear about stuff anyway, do you not? You hear, ‘So-and-so just did that,’ and everyone goes ‘Oh, did you know so-and-so was doing that?’

CMO2:

No-one has stolen a march across a whole range of, say, client-led marketing initiatives. Everyone is at different stages but all within pretty much closing distance of each other.

CMO1:

Yes, but still some way behind the rest of the world, in some ways.

CMO2:

Yes, but maybe it is right to be. We are not Amazon, we do not need a website with a shopping cart. However, we are a professional services firm, so we do need to present our best thinking. You need an assessment across a whole number of dimensions. You need to be honest and say, ‘Actually, where do you need to be?’ Not everything has to go to the right-hand side of the scale.

‘I have been in this sector for eight years and there has always been talk about what is going to be the big move, when somebody will break genuinely ahead and there is a real a step change.’

CMO3:

No, but it is still interesting that nobody has really broken out, is it not? I have been in this sector for eight years and there has always been talk about what is going to be the big move, when somebody will break genuinely ahead and there is a real a step change. Of course it will be easier to identify these things in hindsight, but I have not really seen that.

CMO1:

We need also to remember, though, that a lot of our clients in the organisations we work for are lawyers who come from private practice law firms initially. If you try to break too far ahead too quickly, you will leave them behind. You need to remember that they are the key audience.

CMO2:

In five years’ time, it is going to be so different. I think we are going to see massive change – an unrecognisable change.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

The room has been silenced.

CMO2:

Well, that is my view.

CMO3:

I really wish I believed you, but I am not sure I do. I do not know if it is going to be five years.

CMO2:

Five to 10. In a lot of people’s lifetimes – very short lifetimes – there is going to be a lot of change. It is a business model that is so old, and you look at the model and you look at the financial dynamics of it and the gearing and everything else. You take robotics, artificial intelligence, and you get a bunch of lawyers no longer doing these things because learning machines will do it for them. What does your leverage model look like or your gearing for matters?

CMO4:

How do you train people?

CMO2:

How do you train them? What is the future pipeline for a partner?

David Burgess:

It is $180,000 a year, is it not?

CMO2:

But, honestly, people think about robotics as doing routine jobs but, exactly as CMO4 says, it changes the whole 150-year model.

David Burgess:

It takes away the bottom of the pyramid.

CMO2:

It takes away the bottom of the pyramid, and it changes pricing; it changes future talent management.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I wonder whether ‘pyramid’ even is the right term for it anymore.

David Burgess:

Traditionally it has been.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

Right. When you take away the bottom of the pyramid, are you in fact creating a system whereby you do not need a pyramid at all? The bottom of the pyramid is the technology or maybe it is a much narrower pyramid to begin with and you only need to bring in 10, dare I say, new lawyers a year rather than 100 new lawyers.

CMO4:

There is definitely going to be a narrower pyramid. You are going to need fewer. However, I sense we are grappling with what additional skills we are going to need in the organisations to use these technologies. If you look at how the markets are evolving, we have all largely invested in service centres. We have looked at the work and said some of the less complex work can be done through good process design.

CMO2:

Project management skills.

CMO4:

Project management skills as well. That is very amenable to some degree of automation, which probably in the first instance is not going to be artificial intelligence. It is probably more of a rules-driven system. When you start to do that, you are going to ask, ‘Do we need to have technologists in the organisation doing that, sitting alongside our project managers thinking about the way in which we do the work, or are we going to be licensing somebody else’s solution for this?’ A fundamental question is: what is the knowhow of the firm? Is it something you are going to buy from a vendor in future or is it something that you are going to try to encapsulate? I think those are some of the questions CMO2 is talking about, which are really profound.

CMO2:

Is it changing from being a law firm into a professional services firm? That is, a business and legal adviser rather than just a law firm. That could be one big change.

CMO3:

That will speed up the change that CMO2 is talking about in a way, because how many firms are going to be able to afford to make those investments themselves?

CMO2:

That is why you have to do it in conjunction with other providers.

David Burgess:

Did you see yesterday A&O and Deloitte hook up? I think that is going to become more prevalent; that is where things are beginning to move. At the moment they are joint ventures, but gradually they will become much more integrated, I feel.

CMO3:

The point about skills is very valid regarding project management, technology – all of those types of things – but it is also about relationship skills. Our entire recruitment bias is around trying to find super, super smart people, but then how do you tell the difference between the super smart people who are at our firm versus yours or anyone else’s? That is not going to be a real differentiator, it will be relationship skills. But we continue to recruit for IQ not EQ. Not that all the partners know what EQ is.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I was just curious about offshoring, because I know a number of firms have adopted this and a number of firms have said it is not necessarily what they want to do, and we have talked a bit about, frankly, changing the model by which we provide legal services to our clients. I want to throw down the gauntlet and say maybe it is time for many firms – not all – to look at the way they are providing marketing services internally to their own clients and whether we are spending time and resources on the things we prefer not to, frankly. We have people doing things that perhaps could be best done by others, whether offshore or not, and we could be spending more of our time on the things that are most highly valued, as CMO2 was saying before. I am just curious to hear your views on this.

CMO4:

The work that goes on in a typical marketing and business development department includes, first, some relatively routine tasks, which are important and need to happen. Take, for example, organising an event. There is a certain amount of logistics that needs to go into that, invitations and suchlike, which none of us would necessarily say is high added value from a thought perspective. You have those relatively routine tasks.

‘As we look to professionalise the services we provide to organisations, we do need to be more disciplined about trying to isolate and take out some of the more routine stuff and do them in a very efficient way, which will then throw the emphasis on to whether we have the right skills to develop the added-value piece.’

Then you have what I suppose we would like our client development managers to be doing, which is being very thoughtful about what the client needs and trying to connect the dots between what we see as the client’s strategy and some of their pressing challenges, and how we might be able to help them. The second category of work is much more varied and difficult to systematise or codify.

Typically we have had all of that happening in the same office, and sometimes we ask the same individual to straddle all of that space. As we look to professionalise the services we provide to organisations, we do need to be more disciplined about trying to isolate and take out some of the more routine stuff and do them in a very efficient way, which will then throw the emphasis on to whether we have the right skills to develop the added-value piece. When it is all happening within the same office or with the same individual, you may sometimes be a bit tolerant of the end quality because you have asked a lot of the person. The minute you start to separate them you get into a very different game, where you are looking to be best in class in each of those.

It is not easy to do as well, because the thing about the old model is that very often partners have a proprietary sense that the person who is doing all those various tasks is their person who is sitting six feet away from their office, and they quite like the fact that they are highly available and can do pretty much anything they are asked. As you move towards more of a services model, there are some challenges there.

David Burgess:

Do you think it liberates those people?

CMO2:

The bigger challenge is exactly as CMO4 said. When you get to this higher end stuff, I hear partners say, ‘We need more strategic BD advice.’ I say, ‘Yes, could you just define that for me? I just do not know what that really is. Is that going out and winning business for you?’ Because that is not going to happen. ‘Is it researching sectors and sending you this, that or the other. Is it researching your client or reading the FT every morning and getting thousands of data feeds from various different sources?’ I do not think there is a consistent understanding about what that layer is across the top. What I do know is that getting the fundamentals right on a consistent basis will always be important.

David Burgess:

When you think about it, it is fundamental to any business. Get the simple basic stuff absolutely right. You can make mistakes at the strategic end occasionally, but if you cannot do the core stuff that you are doing in terms of delivery of service, accuracy of billing and really good project management – all those things that effectively people want to take for granted – you have no hope with the rest of the stuff, full stop.

CMO2:

CMO4 said it is difficult to get right. It is difficult to get it right every single day for every partner in every practice in every geography.

CMO3:

To your point, getting that bottom layer of stuff standardised around some processes can in itself be quite a fight, because you have to persuade partners in individual offices or different practices. You have to be able to say, 'We know you think that is a better way of doing it, but if we all have the same process that is going to overall get better outcomes, it is going to be smoother and more efficient.'

CMO2:

The move from bespoke to standardised is often resisted.

CMO3:

Absolutely.

CMO4:

But the arguments for that are around the level of investment that the organisation needs to make in BD. If you scale it appropriately, if you have efficiencies and you do not have 100 variations, there is a saving on the amount of marketing and business development investment that needs to be made. Everybody gets that when it is a generalised conversation and then they do not get it when it is their pitch that you are deprioritising because you think, ‘The client is unlikely to give us the work, we lack the skills or, even if we did win the client, it would not be particularly meaningful anyway.’ Those are the crunch points where you have those conversations, because you cannot scale for doing anything you might get on a given day. You are going to have to have some prioritisation around that.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

Certainly in the United States, I found the evolution of marketing departments is a little behind, frankly, where it is in the UK, in London. The evolution began with the person who needed to write the biography or just take notes when the partner was dictating the biography, all the way up to where we are today with business development and marketing. When you were talking about getting that bottom layer right, as everybody was talking about it, it was confirmation bias because there was a period of time, certainly in the United States, where there were people who were brought in to take care of marketing that started as paralegals – and they are still there. Look, I started as a paralegal. Everybody will know who I am.

You had, though, people in New York particularly but in the United States who were very suspicious about marketing, and when someone got something in a biography wrong, or something basic wrong, it was confirmation bias, right? They were confirming their bias that this was a group of people who were worth nothing and they could not get anything right – they could not even spell the name of a client correctly.

Then a number of marketing groups and a number of marketing heads helped overcome that bias and got past that basic band of work and got firms to think about more sophisticated marketing and business development needs and built pretty large departments of people. They had to have that lower level layer of people who were really focusing on making sure every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ was dotted. But they are now finding that, frankly, that the band of work that has to be done correctly is absorbing so much time that the marketing teams are not really getting to spend a good amount of time on the higher level work, and that their groups are so big that they cannot get approval to add more staff. A number of firms – and I will tell you that I was doing this before I left – are taking some of the lower level work and moving it to an offshoring situation, even if it is an organisation that is not necessarily associated with the firm, to handle some of that work so that the higher level people could be focussed on the business relationships of the firm.

CMO1:

Typically what sorts of activities are you offshoring?

Yolanda Cartusciello:

For example: updating biographies and keeping up the website – not writing the copy for the website but just all the technological aspects of sending the copy offshore and they update the website. Cleaning up CRM lists, names and addresses and phone numbers. Those are the kinds of things that you could discretely chunk and give to an outside organisation. We were starting to offshore basic graphic design work – we did not care to have that done locally – and we were starting to do some basic press release work as a test but had not got very far, and I am not really sure they are doing that now. I found that what we then lacked was pure project management skills within the group, to an earlier point that you were making about legal process management. I uncovered issues that I had not realised were within my staff, because I had to have somebody or several somebodies interacting with the offshore capability and making sure things were done correctly. I found that I had people who had been so used to being able to, cover their inefficiencies by just doing it the night before. They had to fix all of that. They had to address those problems, because I could no longer staff the same way. I had to try to bring the offshore capabilities up to the same standard that the lawyers were used to having. It was really a bit of a struggle to do that.

CMO3:

We started moving things across some years ago to our offshore back office, and every year we take more things across including from the core marketing and BD function. Part of the benefit is you have to have a systematic process if it is going to be successful, because that is what the offshore team needs to work from. That has been very helpful. It is not easy to shift the process over, but in terms of the on-shore team it is very motivating, because if you do not have to do those database updates or make the simple changes to the website, it is quite liberating. It means instead you can think about the upgrades you need to put into the website to make sure you are delivering a better service or experience or whatever. That is much more motivating and it is much easier to retain people.

‘We started moving things across some years ago to our offshore back office, and every year we take more things across including from the core marketing and BD function.’

David Burgess:

Presumably it changed the way you recruited or the type of people you recruited.

CMO3:

Explicitly we need to make sure that there are people who understand that part of their role is to manage the extended offshore team. There are some aspects of what we are working on at the moment where building a stronger relationship between the onshore team and the offshore team is quite a big priority. I think it's important that our people offshore feel they are not just running the process but they are part of the team and the overall delivery. Sometimes that gets a bit ignored. We are probably in the next phase of thinking about how to address that.

David Burgess:

I have just looked at the time and we have nearly done an hour. It would be interesting to find out from your perspectives, in terms of the marketing function, what things you would like to just get rid of. What are the things that you would like partners to understand are a waste of time and should not be done or, if you had that time freed up, what would you ideally like to do that you think could add value to the firm? Be honest.

CMO2:

We have got ourselves into a vice with regard to directories. Many partners take it seriously, others don’t. Whether the clients do or not, I have doubts, but I know it takes an inordinate amount of time from my team and I do not personally see the value in relations to the time and effort expended on this. I have talked to a lot of partners about it and some share my view and some do not. Many things we end up working on have come historically with the legal profession and have grown up over the years, many of which are little value but still persist.

CMO3:

You could add to that list: ‘We have done cocktail events for this client every year for the past X years, so let us do it again.’ For what reason?

CMO1:

I take a slightly contrary view, because I am coming at this from a completely different angle from the rest of you. We are a £100 million business, which is very different in scale and size to the rest of you. Things like directories and awards are very valuable.

CMO2:

Yes, I can understand that.

CMO1:

We stand to gain a lot more by trying to win law firm of the year or other such awards. From a brand perspective, it is massively powerful for us, and so we will continue to engage with that kind of thing.

David Burgess:

Presumably you do it judiciously. You are not going to throw everything against the wall just in case you get some kind of award. You have to be smart about it.

CMO1:

We have to be very discerning about it, simply because we do not have the capacity to do anything else. We have a very small team of people who are able to write compelling award submissions or directory submissions. We have to pick or choose two or three from each one and say, ‘Those are the ones that are going to give us most value and those are the ones that we stand the greatest chance of doing well in,’ and then throw our all behind them and hope that we have backed the right horse. I do see the value, but again it is a different dynamic for us.

David Burgess:

Just remember that some awards you do not pay for. I will just put that right out there. I think you have all been beneficiaries of our awards and you have not had to pay a penny or do a submission. I am just saying – which I think is fair.

That does echo, what was said in the US, which was, yes, there is always a bit of scepticism about these things. Some people have different views on them. It always comes down to there being two or three that the market pays more attention to, so those sorts of things should be focused on. At the same time, there are more and more coming out, because they think firms are an easy mark. The problem is some firms have been an easy mark, which kind of encourages everybody.

It has changed over the years and it will continue changing as well. When I first started 20 years ago, you would ring up a partner and say, ‘Do you want to do something or buy something?’ and they would say, ‘Yes, yes, no problem.’ There was no marketing department. Then a marketing department came in and the marketing department would say, ‘Look, I think this is a waste of time,’ and you would go, ‘Okay, we will just talk to the partner again,’ and the partner would say, ‘No, I am going to do it.’ Gradually, as marketing have got more organised, smarter, more strategic, that stuff is falling away, and that will continue. The ones that will survive are the ones that are being used by clients that can demonstrate that they have that value, and everyone should be showing that right now and, if they cannot, I think firms are already making those smart decisions about what to participate in and what not to.

CMO3:

We have not really talked about talent, but that is absolutely right, because partners making calls around talent and people’s careers sends such a strong message internally and it can undo so much good work not just around people management but around processes you are trying to drive – consistency, commitment to quality – and that is very problematic.

David Burgess:

I have to say the piece I wrote two or three months ago on LinkedIn - ‘Law Firm Partners: Stop being arrogant and realise the talent within’ - caused a huge storm. I frankly was quite surprised by how much feedback we got on that. It is clearly something that resonates massively, which is: partners do not appreciate the skills that other people bring into their business. There is still a lingering sense that they know best because they are the partners. Breaking that will be the most important thing to do.

Do I think that can be done in five to 10 years? Possibly towards the end of the 10 years there could be that sense. At the moment, however, you talk about the bubble. Most partners have been in this bubble for many years. They do not see that other people can bring a huge range of skills and that those skills are essential to a business. You cannot bumble along anymore and just bolt things on until suddenly you ask yourself: what does this organisation now look like? That has to fundamentally change, and there are going to be some pretty rocky moments over the next five to 10 years as that begins to change – because it will change, because it has to. Also, firms will start doing things better and everybody follows to a large extent. Everyone will have to just take it on board. That is my take.

‘I have to say the piece I wrote two or three months ago on LinkedIn -‘Law Firm Partners: Stop being arrogant and realise the talent within’ - caused a huge storm. I frankly was quite surprised by how much feedback we got on that.’

CMO2:

There is a respect from partners for people who are not lawyers. Increasingly, I certainly feel it within our firm, not just in the marketing team but across the board. However, there is what I call the macro-micro tension. If you go to partners and ask, ‘What do you think of a certain function?’ they would say, ‘I do not really know what they do.’ If you went to an individual partner and said, ‘What do you think of xxx?’ ‘He is amazing. Every night here doing my pitches. He is doing this, that and the other.’ They will pick out the individuals they work with and say they are fantastic. If you say, ‘What about the collective?’ they will say, ‘I do not know. They are probably pretty expensive, are they not?’

David Burgess:

They will pick the one thing that they did not like and say, ‘That is everything, is it not?’

CMO3:

As partners move into more senior leadership or management roles and interface with more of the operational teams, there is increasing appreciation for those people. Some of the older partners – and this is perhaps where there is an age divide – who are at the coal face perhaps struggle to get past the individual. In that case, still it stands: ‘My individual – this individual I know – is great,’ but the general group is probably not.

CMO4:

I wonder to what extent some of that comes from the fact that the talent has been quite mixed. One of the things that is interesting and occasionally exciting about working in law firm marketing is that it is not a place where there is any space for dogma or faddishness. Everything has to be proved to be valuable and nobody is jumping on any bandwagons. It is very much: ‘Explain to me how that is going to work.’ They are quite searching and demanding internal clients, and over the years the quality of the marketing/business development people they may have been exposed to has probably been quite varied. Therefore, the onus is very much on making sure, as you present this new stuff, it really is grounded and it works and you have good people behind it, which is not an easy thing to do.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

I noticed over time in my last role was that, as the marketing team became more accepted and more appreciated, we had a bigger problem with people saying ‘Can you take this on? Can you take this on? Can you take this on?’ If I were to reinterpret your question about what activities we might give up, I would answer it a little differently, I would have got rid of having to make up the difference between the quality of the work product a particular administrative group was giving to the partners and what the partners expected and therefore came to the marketing team to make up the difference.

An example is what the library was providing as competitive research and what we had to take from the library and then fix or redo to provide what the lawyers wanted in the first place. If I were to think about what I would prefer my team not to have to have done, it would be those kinds of things. I can think of examples from finance: reports that they really wanted that they would ask us to help to create, because we had the insight from the client interviews and understanding of the market place, to the library, to a number of other areas. It was lovely flattery, but ultimately it was a big frustration for me.

David Burgess:

Coming back to your point about asking partners to define what they mean by things, I do not think they have been questioned enough by people to say, ‘You have to explain that, because I do not really know what it is I am supposed to be doing or what you want from me.’ We call many BD people the enablers, because they enable bad behaviour and they waste time, because they are being told by the partners, ‘This is what we need,’ even though it is not necessarily what you need. That does come back to a cultural element of how much you separate those people from the partners or how much you enable them to turn round to the partners and say, ‘Actually this is what this practice needs rather than you telling us what we can deliver.’

CMO1:

Yes, exactly. The onus should be on us to tell them what they need rather than asking them what they want, because half the time they will not know what they want, because they have never had to think properly about what they want.

CMO2:

However, you have to agree a mandate: with specific deliverables. ‘This is what the marketing function is here to deliver. Understood.’

David Burgess:

There should be a consistency in that as well.

CMO2:

Yes. What goes with that, and this is something that underpins absolutely everything that we all face every single day of the week, is we are all smart people at and running the marketing functions, and we all know what the right things are to do. We know we need a CRM system. We know we need discipline around client feedback. Because it is a partnership, there are no consequences for non-compliance. When I was at my previous company, it was not a partnership, and you would say to someone, ‘We are going to do this with this client etc. and if you do not get that, you are not going to get your bonus at the end of the year.’ You had compensation – you had all other sticks and carrots and things to apply. It is virtually impossible to get compliance in a partnership, and for marketing to get the discipline that we want and this rigour and this consistency, compliance from your internal client is critical. There are no consequences for non-compliance. I do not know what you guys think, but I think that is it in a nutshell.

‘It is virtually impossible to get compliance in a partnership, and for marketing to get the discipline that we want and this rigour and this consistency, compliance from your internal client is critical.’

CMO3:

It is quite interesting, in some big offices like London or New York, you see that there is a big enough team with enough senior individuals who can go in and have those conversations with partners and say, ‘Actually, we are not going to do that. You are wrong. We need this instead.’ Of course, in some of the smaller offices, where you might only have very junior staff, there is absolutely none of that, because they do not want to recruit people who are going to have those conversations.

CMO2:

It might be the compensation system behind some of this as well. I do not know about the US firms maybe they have a lever that is compensation. I do not know. I am not aware of any US law firm that has any more degree of compliance.

David Burgess:

I am not sure of any US firm that penalises anybody for non-compliance.

CMO4:

Compensation systems are designed to reward very specific behaviours. You have to be very careful. They become a formula or they become a system to be played.

CMO3:

I do hear Latham is very strict on their CRM system. It is a complete expectation of any partner within the firm that you will keep your contacts up to date and they will all be in the central database – some of those things that hamper us on a day-to-day basis.

David Burgess:

Again, that comes back to a cultural thing.

Yolanda Cartusciello:

We figured that the lawyers were not capable of figuring out how to fix the technology, so we simply made it that it was public by default. All the CRM and all their contacts were public, and they had to go in and make them private.

David Burgess

We have probably reached the end of our time. Thank you everybody for being so honest.