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EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES

EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES > Chief marketing officer: the law firm change agent

EVENTS AND ROUNDTABLES

Chief marketing officer:
the law firm change agent




Roundtable New York

As I wrote in a LinkedIn blog post entitled “Law Firm Partners: Stop being arrogant and realise the talent within”, one of the issues facing law firms is a failure to empower their marketing and business development teams, or at the very least to recognise that they have skills that lawyers simply do not have.

It has been a topic that I have discussed with many CMOs across the globe, including Yolanda Cartusciello, now of Bernero & Press , who is consistently recognised as one of the leading law firm marketers of the past decade. We decided to put together a roundtable of some of the leading CMOs in the legal market, to discuss the issues facing marketing and BD in law firms.

In order to have a full and frank discussion, it was essential that this was done under the full cloak of anonymity, as I’m sure you can understand. So, on a sunny March day, we gathered together at a secret location in Manhattan – read on to find out what we discussed.

David Burgess, Publishing Director, The Legal 500


Yolanda:

Thank you all for coming tonight and for doing this – we really do appreciate it. When David and I first spoke about this, we thought it would be interesting to get a collection of, frankly, our favourite people together to talk about some of the challenges that you are all facing now. I just figured that I would start off because I was most recently a CMO at a firm and spent a long time there, and had been at another firm before that – I am not saying names, because we are on tape. For those of you who do not know, I was at Debevoise for 12 years. Prior to that, I was at Cleary. Now, I have been out with Bernero & Press for the last few months, and one of the things that I have had the real pleasure of doing is going around and talking to many of your contemporaries. From my perspective, in terms of the things that I am seeing in the marketplace, there is a lot that you have to deal with – so much more than when I first started in law firms and law-firm marketing, where it was a challenge to get people to say the word ‘marketing’. We were not allowed to call the Marketing department a marketing department at Cleary; we had to call it communications. We were also not allowed to proactively reach out to reporters, and sometimes we were not even allowed to respond to reporters. Today, fast forward – I will admit it – many, many years, the kinds of challenges that I was most recently facing before I left and those that I have heard about include dealing with pricing: integration of your marketing and business-development efforts with the pricing, project management and process-management efforts that are going on at many of your firms. For those firms who are not doing that yet, they are trying to figure out how to get that off the ground. What role does Marketing play in that? It is a personal challenge for many of us because it is not necessarily the remit that we had and, therefore, not necessarily the skill that we had honed over years. Even for those of us who are familiar with the concept, sometimes what happens is a law firm will look to the outside to find someone, rather than turning to their own internal capabilities within a firm. So, pricing and project management, and the integration of Marketing into how we approach business development.

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.

That is the perspective that I come at it from.

David:

From our perspective, we at The Legal 500 talk to law firm marketers regularly. In terms of what we hear, often we go in and talk to you about the things that we can do or the things that are going on in the market, and one of the common themes that we are hearing is a frustration of ‘We would like to do more but we just cannot, because our budgets are so tight and are getting tighter and tighter.’ There is partner pressure: they do not really see the value of these things. It comes back to part of what Yolanda was saying. I am going to be writing something on LinkedIn about this in the next few days: I have fantastic people who I work with – the editors, our sales guys or our production people – and the reason why they are so good is because we let them do their job. One of the key things that I keep hearing about marketing and law firms is that marketers are not allowed to do their job. There are lots of barriers whereby they wish they could do more but they are stopped, either because of a lack of imagination and ideas from the existing partnership, or simply because the budgets are so small that there is only a certain number of things that you can do, and you want to do more. We also compare it to the outside world – the non-law-firm world – which, apparently, does exist. It is quite big and they do things very differently there. Sometimes, it is a question of how much that crosses over. The phrase that probably frustrates me more than anything is ‘Yes, but law is a little different’, and the question is, ‘Should it be?’ or ‘If it is a little different, what can we learn from elsewhere?’ I come at it from that point of view.

One of the reasons why we thought about doing this was that we want to publish this and put it out to the wider marketing community and to ask, ‘Are those your frustrations? Are they the same things that you are thinking? Are there things that we can talk about that might help other people?’ As you know, although we have a huge number of GCs looking at The Legal 500, quite a lot of partners like to look at it as well – maybe because they like to look at their own names. Hopefully, they will read it and maybe it will start to help change a few opinions and a few thoughts – we can only dream that that might happen.

It would be great if (partners) spent more time out from behind their desks. Getting them to do that is not a resource or an ability I have.

Yolanda:

Why do we not just throw down the gauntlet to anyone who wishes to make a comment about this? David did not know I was going to say this but I literally just had a meeting with a procurement person in a bank – and he is thinking about starting to work with law firms and helping them to see the other side of it. He started talking about websites are useless, how this in a firm is useless and how that in a firm is useless. He was naming everything marketers have ever done, although he did believe in some things that we do, such as business development. I want to throw it out there and ask, ‘How much do you feel like what you do is useless and could probably be thrown by the wayside? If you had a magic wand and could change it, what would you get rid of or do differently?’

CMO1:

It’s funny that you said that, because his comments resonate for me. I think I know the guy you’re talking about. Last year, we did a radical rethink. There has been a very clear shift in direction - that business development/revenue generation is the lens through which everything is seen. Do websites matter? There was a whole discussion around this. We know that certain features of websites do matter, however, there’s a consensus that we should ditch the practice pages because they’re ultimately useless and don’t convey anything of real value. Thought leadership isn’t useless, but needs to be focused and support clearly defined opportunities. So, what a law firm web site is being re-imagined. There’s a strong focus on revenue, and that seems to be the theme. Everything has to be tied to revenue and has to be immediate. That is what I am seeing.

CMO2:

I think the balance of that is that there are all these different channels of communication. The website used to be we all thought, great for reaching clients; then we decided it was great for reaching recruits. Now, recruits are looking at websites on their iPhones, so technology needs to be responsive. You have all these different channels of communication and, as a marketer, you have to think about the different audiences and the different channels and figure out what matches up strategically for what reason. It is much more complicated. It is a whole web that you did not have to worry about before.

CMO1:

Thought leadership is still important, but the channels that we are accustomed to using (and the ones that we spend a lot of time on) may be the wrong ones moving forward. In some of our firms, there is a huge focus on revenue generation. Anything that seems too abstract and not too connected to that is given short shrift or at least not perceived to be a priority. Each firm is different in terms of mix and what its priorities are, but that is what I am sensing, not only at our firm, but also at a number of others.

Yolanda:

Are there things that are going to be dropped as opposed to just looking at them with a more careful eye?

CMO1:

That is interesting because there’s a whole discussion about everything being re-examined. We produce, like a lot of firms, a ton of white papers, and I have been tasked to look at them from the client’s perspective. Is there a better way to communicate the information? Is this simply a publishing exercise? Is this really an important thing that we should be doing, or are more targeted communications to clients of greater value? We are re-considering all of it. The new website project is going to be interesting because we are rethinking it from the ground up. For example, the data does not support the belief that law firm web sites (as they are currently imagined) effectively relay information about practices and capabilities. So, how do we do that?

CMO2:

There is the recruiting point. Lateral hires and law students spend a lot of time on the website learning about the practice areas, trying to decide where they want to go and getting a feel for the firm. The talent of the firm – the people we hire – is obviously extremely important, but it is not directly client development or revenue generating.

CMO3:

I think you can overdo that perspective and then take your foot off the brand building gasoline altogether. That is not where you want to be either. Since 2008 and 2009, everybody has been focused on revenue generation and business development but there is an importance to brand building too because you just need to be thought of, mentioned and considered in a certain space to pick up new engagements and to have the opportunity to get in front of potential clients. The best brand building is through engagements but I think there is a place for visibility raising and thought leadership. We just redid our website and are very happy with it, but with a view toward what it can and cannot do and who our audiences are.

CMO4:

We just went through creating a whole new website from the ground up and switched the focus. It started out with a branding exercise around who we are, but what we learned is that the clients were wanting, ‘Just give it to me quickly.’ Most clients do not come to the website via the homepage, because they click on an article or because they Google something and then pull up a bio. We find that the bios are by far the most clicked. They want it quick, so the most important thing for us was that it was clean. We think it looks great and it is along the lines of what a lot of people are doing now, which is cool photography of lawyers, so the branding ended up looking a lot like some others we have seen, but it is fully responsive, with predictive searching. You can go right on the homepage and, whatever you click, it is going to pull up the attorney, the practice and the blog that is related to it. It is a sort of facilitator to get to what they are looking as opposed to a product in and of itself.

The whole issue of SEO is driving very much what we have been doing. We introduced our first blog and a microsite less than two years ago; we are now working on our sixth blog, and we are tweeting, so we are doing all these things to share and to bring it up. Their goal for the website is, ‘Get us more Google hits’, ultimately. That is what the whole exercise has ended up being about.

Yolanda:

It is almost like a Moneyball approach: pick one statistic, focus on it and try to address it, and see whether or not that drives some revenue in some way.

CMO4:

Yes, and we have seen results from the website.

Yolanda:

Let me refocus this a little. I sent everybody down the path of talking about the website, which was my fault – I take full responsibility for that. I think I want to frame it a little differently: what would you like more of? What tools would you like more of? What tools are not at your disposal? What would you like to be doing that you are not getting to do? How are you dealing with those kinds of issues?

CMO2:

I would like to see more attorney time spent going out – the relationship element is so essential.

CMO4:

I would agree with that: the coaching aspect and spending more time with them. That is what I enjoy doing and want to be doing. I want to use my time to move projects ahead but allow myself to spend more time with the attorneys and the practice-group chairs.

David:

What are the main barriers to that? Is it just the attorney saying, ‘I am too busy and do not have time’ or is it disinterest? There is a difference.

CMO4:

It is more my own time.

Yolanda:

I was going to ask: is it your schedule?

CMO4:

It is a lot of that. Also, talking about attorney time as a resource, my favourite part is sitting down and being with them but then also getting them to go out and do it. It would be great if they spent more time out from behind their desks. Getting them to do that is not a resource or an ability I have.

David:

Does anybody here find that their attorneys are going out more than they used?

[General agreement]

But not to the level that you want them to?

CMO1:

I would not say that.

CMO5:

My experience is very different. It is like business development on fire, and the main challenge is coordination across all the offices, so that people are not approaching the same targets from different offices or practices. It is nothing in terms of inertia. Everyone is looking at the bottom line and worried about what their report card is going to look like at the end of the year if they do not do enough business development.

CMO4:

I think there is a lot of that activity, which is great. I find it frustrating because I think they spend too much time on the materials. There is still so much of that focus on, ‘I want it to look this way. I do not really like blue; I would rather a greenish colour.’ There is a lot of obsession with the materials and not enough time spent talking about, ‘What is the opportunity like? What should be talking to this client about?’ instead of really focusing on what we are going to put in the materials.

CMO3:

To add to that – and I have said this many times – if you counted the hours we spend on the written material versus preparing for the in-person meeting, you would not be happy with the way you are doing it because, when you think about how the decision is made, it is not heavily based on the materials.

Yolanda:

One of the challenges we all have, then, is that they care about the written material, so how much do you acquiesce to that in order to get them out of the door? It is the approach of: if they want to wear red underwear, let them wear red underwear. Do the materials for them, because maybe that gets them out of the door. Alternatively, how much do you say, ‘Stop. This is ridiculous’ – sometimes at our own peril.

CMO4:

We try to coach them into that direction; the hard part is that – and this is what I at least have experienced – no matter how many tools and processes you build, these take up a lot of time, partly because they are so focused on them that you have to be so focused on them. I try to encourage people by saying, ‘Do not take anything with you. Send something later. Talk to them and find out what they are interested in. Do not assume that, because you worked on an M&A transaction, they want to know more about our M&A practice. Hear what they want to know about and we will send that later.’ It just takes a lot of my team’s time putting together the materials, so that they are good enough, even though we all know they go right into the bin and that that is not the deciding factor.

Everyone is looking at the bottom line and worried about what their report card is going to look like at the end of the year if they do not do enough business development.

CMO7:

To your friend at the bank’s point, there have been a lot of GC panels where they have said exactly this: ‘We do not really care about the materials.’ More and more, some partners at least are hearing that and, the more stats we have that we know specifically GCs who say, ‘We are really not that interested and that is not how we make our decision’, that helps us, but there will always be partners who are just going to spend hours fussing over the last deal mentioned. How do we say no to that?

Yolanda:

There is always the one client who, in fact, did read all the materials and pointed out all the typos.

CMO4:

We had a lot of that. We have less of it now. I think they are spending a little less time on the materials. We need constant input from the partners, but the one thing that I think is helping is that we are trying to educate them to be able to say, ‘Look, your clients are from a new generation. These are people who do not want to sit at their desk and read, so we have to look at the website differently and at our printed material differently. What about using PowerPoints or what about coming in with one sheet of paper with the key issues, and then just being smart and discussing the important items?’ We are trying to change the conversation to be what would be palatable for the client rather than how lovely the appearance of our materials.

CMO1:

I think the greatest challenge is really about ourselves. Our lawyers are asking us to have – due to the shift from traditional marcom to a business development focus in many firms – a real, sophisticated understanding of their practices and of the industries that they are operating in. They hold us accountable for being up to speed. You need to be credible with the fund-finance group on Monday at 10.00 am, as well as the private equity lawyers at 11. We need, as marketers, to be incredibly knowledgeable about each of our practices - how they get business, who they get business from and what the decision-making/ sales process looks likes. That is a challenge for us, especially if you work in a firm with multiple practices. You have to be constantly on top of it. That’s a challenge for me personally because, while we have increased the sophistication of the staff who work with lawyers one on one, it is never quite enough. Our lawyers are living it every day and they are always one step ahead of you. They turn to our teams and ask very pointed, sophisticated questions; if you do not have a sophisticated response, frankly speaking, your credibility is zero. That is a challenge we’re facing.

David:

One of the things that I have heard from a number of people is a frustration in terms of having to know the practices very well and to understand where the work has traditionally come from – not necessarily how it will come in the future but where it traditionally has come from. Part of the thing that you need to be able to do to market, however, is to know the clients better and to have that face-time with the clients. One of the frustrations I hear from a number of firms is, ‘We do not get in front of the clients enough’ because partners are scared of the ‘sales’ word and they think that somehow we are pitching them whereas they are the better people to talk to them about it. Are you finding that a constant issue or is it getting better?

CMO1:

We are encouraged to talk to the client, but on the procurement and operations side. They encourage us; we had a whole talk the other day from a senior partner, saying that he wants us to do more of that, going out and meeting people at our clients. When it comes to their primary contacts, however, the story is a little different. They want to be part of it.

CMO7:

At my last firm, they were very proactive about encouraging not just Business Development but all staff, across the board, saying, ‘This is where our responsibility is to help bring revenue into the firm. If you have one contact or one vendor or one friend from high school who you think could use our services, we encourage you to go out.’ Moving into the sales model, I know that some firms have hired specifically a salesperson, which we have not quite gotten to. There is a shift between Events and Business Development.

Our lawyers are living it every day and they are always one step ahead of you. They turn to our teams and ask very pointed, sophisticated questions; if you do not have a sophisticated response, frankly speaking, your credibility is zero. That is a challenge we’re facing.

At my former-former firm, Events was Events and Business Development was Business Development. After time, we realised that the Events people had this tremendous connection with all of our key clients: GCs and heads of private-equity firms. They knew them personally because they saw them repeatedly and they really had that sense, but they did not really know the Business Development side. At my last firm, the Business Development people also handled Events, which was a funny thing from the compensation point, because you had people saying, ‘They really know business and are paid so much more, but they are doing nametags’, but they were at the events and knew the clients. I think it became much more effective at understanding the business and knowing how to reach out to the clients. I think that that can be very effective.

CMO5:

We do a hybrid. Events report into the overall Business Development department but, over time, in my five years at the firm that I am at now, the integration has been great. The Events manager is completely essential from a logistics standpoint in terms of knowing how the flow of a space will go, but there is always a Business Development manager there. To your point, in terms of the practice knowledge, if you have Business Development managers who understand the practice, I do not feel that there is ever any fear. It happens organically or naturally that they have to know the clients and they know their names, because they have been involved. In certain areas, such as Silicon Valley, it is 100% essential that people who are in Business Development know the clients and the way that the community works. Private equity, I think, is the same, if you have that practice at your firm. I do not think that public companies are different than banks or private equity, but that is my experience.

David:

We talk to GCs quite a lot. We talk to them on a very different level. They are always quite surprised that they do not have more contact with firms from different areas such as Business Development or Marketing. Ultimately, they have that interaction in their own companies, and they know how useful it is to talk to all the stakeholders and all of their internal clients. We talk quite openly and honestly with them, and they are often quite disappointed that firms do not do it, because they feel that they are missing something. They often see a very linear, tunnel-vision approach – ‘It is about the work that I do’ – and, in certain firms, it is about their colleagues as well. As I am sure some of you have heard me say this before, the old joke used to be that partners go and meet a client, they talk for 20 minutes about their CV and how great they are and all the work they have done, and they remember that one of you guys has said, ‘You must listen to them.’ They say, ‘Sorry, I have been talking for 20 minutes about myself, so can you now tell me how great I am?’ That is their idea of listening. They do not have that interaction, and they want to find out more about the firm from different perspectives. They want different people thinking in a different way.

To me, that seems something that really comes down to this barrier from partners. It is a time and resource thing within, which is something that we have not touched upon yet. Time and resource is clearly a massive problem within firms. I think there is a sense that GCs just do not want to talk to those people. It is kind of what you were saying: ‘When it comes to the real relationship, do not get involved, because it is our relationship.’ Going forward, I think that that is going to be a huge mistake.

CMO8:

I do a lot of client feedback from our key clients. It is probably one of the most fun things that I do. It is remarkable, however, how few. Almost every time I ask, ‘How was this experience?’ they say, ‘Great.’ I ask, ‘Are other firms doing this?’ and they say, ‘No.’ I am not sure why more firms do not do this, so I can be a differentiator doing it. I am independent of the team working with the client. There are a few other people who do it, who are partners but are independent of the relationship, so it is a different view of the relationship.

David:

What are you going in to ask them about? One of the issues that some folks tell us that they feel that, when it is client-feedback time, it is really the firm coming to say, ‘Please just tell us we are good.’

CMO8:

We are very strict about it and we do not sell. If somebody says, ‘We have this big problem in China’, I do not then say, ‘Here are our credentials in China.’ I say, ‘Okay, noted’ and pass that on to the relationship team, but I am not there to sell. I think it is very important that you are not there to sell. We are really going in to find out how the relationship is going: whether the team is the right team, whether they are delivering at the right level, and what more we could be doing in terms of delivering value – more around the service levels. We then feed that back to the relationship team and say, ‘Here are things that you should think about’ and then make sure they do something in response to it. It is very private, so we do not share it broadly within the firm. We share it with the relationship team and with the chair and the senior management, but that is about it. It is mostly to help improve the relationship.

David:

I am intrigued by the lack of sales element there. If a client said, ‘We have a problem here’, the innate salesperson in me would go, ‘Okay. What is that problem?’ or ‘What have you tried to do about it so far?’ You would ask a couple of questions and tease a little more out of them. They might say, ‘We have gone to our traditional firm and they do not have the capability.’

CMO8:

I will ask about the competitors and what they are doing well and not doing well, but I will not sell. It is really important line. It sets up a different dynamic. You want the client to be willing… I will say, ‘If you say something to me that you feel uncomfortable about and really do not want me to go back and tell those partners about, tell me the feedback and then we will talk at the end of the interview about how we deal with the fact that you do not want it to necessarily go back directly to the partner.’ The most awkward situation is that you have the wrong lead relationship partner. That is a tough one but it happens. That would be a situation where you really need to strategise with the client about how we can address that. Do we bring another person in to supplement the relationship? Is there somebody on the team that they do resonate with? That is the most difficult scenario, I think.

Yolanda:

It is interesting listening to you talk about the client interviews. One of the things I was thinking about was the level of conservativism of some of the firms that I have worked at. At one of my former firms, we did a client-interview programme many years ago, and the client said, ‘This is the first time anybody has ever, ever asked me my opinion.’ Then, five years into my former firm, I finally convinced them to do something using an outside consultant, because their conservativism told them that that was what they needed to do, and that was fine. They were, however, shocked to then hear again from these clients, ‘This is the first time anybody has ever come to us’, and I thought, ‘How could that be?’ Certainly, other firms have gone around and done this, and I realised that a lot of those relationships, certainly at that time, were still extraordinarily proprietary to specific firms. While there are lots of organisations that are working with lots and lots of firms, I still find that there are lots of individuals who will only deal with so and so at a particular firm, so you still have that very high-touch aspect of doing client interviews with people who say, ‘You are the only person who has come to me.’

One of the things that I think is interesting is how much you allow the conservativism of a firm to play out and push where we can and pull back and figure out a way around it, whether it is using an outside person because that is what they are comfortable and maybe also that is what their brand requires for that firm. There is not going to be a sales conversation during that meeting, because the brand of your firm requires that not to occur. How do we push on those issues, and do we want to push on those issues or do we want to allow the brand to be what it is?

David:

It comes back to picking your battles.

CMO8:

We were fortunate in the sense that the managing partner said we were doing it. ‘Come and talk to me if you do not want to do it.’ It was from the top down, saying, ‘We are going to complete client feedback from all our key clients in the next 12 months, and our CMO is going to come and talk to you about that.’ He just got a mandate there, so there were some resisters but they were surrounded.

David:

How long ago was this mandated?

CMO8:

We launched it probably two years ago, and it took us 18 months instead of 12 months.

David:

That is what I find absolutely stunning: that, only two years ago, the head of the firm said, ‘We must go and find out more from our clients.’ It seems so alien to anybody who is not in this industry in terms of how little contact, feedback and constructive criticism – and this is all about understanding your clients better – gets done.

CMO4:

I think it does happen but just maybe not in a very formal way. One partner who has great relationships is very anti-client-feedback, because he has a constant dialogue with his client about the team and how people are doing.

CMO8:

That is what they always say.

CMO4:

I know a lot of them do not but I have seen the feedback that he is passing on to those people.

CMO8:

I do not buy that though. I think that is true: most of our partners at our key clients have very intimate relationships with their clients and are getting constant feedback all the time. I am just saying that it is a different type of feedback. If you come independently, they can tell you whatever they want to tell you. They just will not say things to the person who they are probably friends with, in some cases, because the relationship is so close.

CMO4:

I completely agree, but I think some people think they are getting feedback. Directors are a great example of this: I have seen feedback from clients who we put forward of the handful we are choosing. We think they are going to say great things but they say, ‘He is kind of a cocky jerk’ and you think, ‘Wow, this person thinks they have such a great relationship with this person and that is why they picked them’, but they are just completely out of it.

Yolanda:

It is kind of cheeky.

CMO4:

It is pretty bad.

Yolanda:

‘Sure, I will give you a recommendation.’

CMO4:

These are the people you pick thinking they are going to say good things, or that is implied.

David:

‘We have not spoken to this person for five years’ was one of my favourite bits of feedback. I thought, ‘They are not your client.’

CMO4:

I think there are varying degrees of that. Some people think they have this good relationship, whereas I see very candid feedback. Again, however, you lose out on some of that, because it is a personal relationship. That is where is not formal, but people are getting feedback.

Yolanda:

I also think that this ties together with a thought that was completely unformed when I started talking before: who is the client feedback for? Is it for the benefit of the relationship partner and the relationship team, or is it for the benefit of the entire firm to learn from that? One of the ways I have gotten around partners saying that very thing – ‘I get plenty of feedback, thank you very much’ – is saying, ‘I am sure you are and, frankly, you probably hear it better than anyone else, but other people can learn from your client relationship, if you allow us to do this.’

CMO8:

I think it is both.

You try to move the needle as much as you can, but you have to do what is appropriate for the firm’s particular culture.

CMO2:

You said something at the very beginning about the fact that we are all change agents. Part of that ties into the whole idea of what you can do that is culturally permissible, which depends on what kind of firm you are at. You try to move the needle as much as you can, but you have to do what is appropriate for the firm’s particular culture. So many of us, early on in our careers, did not realize that, which is why I think CMO turnover was much higher at the beginning. People were pushing and people were resisting. We now know that you have to first really understand the firm and understand the firm’s strategy, and then make the best recommendations that are appropriate for that firm – not for you, not for the industry, not because every other firm is doing it but because it is right for that particular enterprise.

David:

There is, however, an element of ‘Everybody else is doing it, so we should.’ We still hear that so regularly.

CMO2:

That is the worst way to market law firms – and it is the worst way to market anything.

Yolanda:

Second to, ‘Well, if it just brings us one deal, it was worth doing this, right?’

CMO2:

Exactly – it is so true.

David:

You talk about culture and every firm has a different culture. Normally, when CMOs first start, they have to spend at least six months to a year just trying to grasp the culture, going around and talking to everyone to find out what is going on, and then trying to formulate a plan of what to do and trying to persuade everyone. They are then off and someone else comes in, and it all starts again. How much do you fight the culture of a firm? How much do you try to push the change a little and say, ‘The culture of this firm says we do not really need Marketing’? We hear that quite a lot from partners: ‘We are so great, we do not need to market.’

Yolanda:

Bless them.

CMO2:

I have tried at least to make them feel that whatever change I am trying to effectuate is very consistent with the culture of the firm. We do plans at the group level, but all partners do individual business-development plans twice a year. A lot of that came from us getting buy-in from the top that, if we want to compete and to be doing what other people are doing, this was the best way to get there. Partners are also required to sit down with me twice a year and talk about those plans. That was a totally foreign concept to them, but it has been going on now for probably eight or nine years and is automatically what they do. I think the ones who have not engaged fully see somebody else who has been sitting down and doing, and having some success, and it has been one of those things that can catch fire when it is keeping up with the person in the next office.

CMO3:

When you talk about being a change agent, none of us would be sitting in the chair we are in right now if we did not figure out ways to get partners in as change agents in this process, because you need other champions. If you are doing it alone, it is going to be extremely hard. If you can get buy-in from people who are also going to be partners in that change agency, you can do a lot.

I honestly think that there has never been a better time to be a CMO at a law firm, in the sense that we are so valued for what we do.

The other thing that nobody has mentioned so far is that – and this may sound pie in the sky – I honestly think that there has never been a better time to be a CMO at a law firm, in the sense that we are so valued for what we do. Marketing and Business Development – for us, they are combined – is valued because we all have a mandate to grow revenue. Therefore, our team is extremely valued. The other thing is that having really good, strong people on your team builds the whole credibility of the Marketing/Business Development department. We happen to have some really talented people who understand our clients, who we compete against and how we get the work. They are very strategic people, and that helps create credibility and, thus, gives you a platform to be able to make change.

David:

In some ways, we are quite fortunate in this room that we have people at very large firms, but there are also a lot of firms that are not necessarily as advanced and where Marketing is not seen in the same way. It is still very much seen as a support function rather than vital part of the business. There are always levels of these things and, even at firms where you think Marketing is held in very high regard, the partners we talk to dismiss it almost instantly, saying, ‘Yes, it is marketed, but we are the ones who really do all the work and we are the reason that it all exists.’ There are elements, and you are right that there is definitely a growing sense of the value that Marketing and Business Development bring, and it almost makes me think sometimes that – coming back to your point – there almost should not be ‘Marketing’ or ‘Business Development’, but that we should try to think of a new name to combine all these functions, which has a more strategic thought –

CMO6:

We have one: client development. It embraces everything.

David:

Maybe that starts to make people think in a different way. Coming to a slightly different point, I want to ask a very quick question: do you think your budgets are big enough?

[General disagreement]

Excellent – it is almost as if I predicted that answer.

CMO2:

How do you deal with the partners who are never going to bring in any business and the initiatives that everybody knows are not going to bring revenue into the firm, but which take a tremendous amount of resources? If you could take the budget from those activities and put it into activities that are going to have a better chance of bringing in revenue to the firm, we might be in a better situation, but it is very difficult.

CMO5:

It is difficult. It comes from the top. At my firm, if it is going to incur a substantial cost, it has to be run past the department head, and then they will just ask my opinion, if it is a non-starter. They can do smaller cost things that are more experimental without a focus on the exact yield.

CMO2:

Them doing something is one thing, but you spending 10 hours on it is a different thing.

CMO5:

It’s an opportunity cost, yes.

CMO3:

The best thing I was able to do this year was to encourage our firm to agree on five key areas that we were going to really focus on this year. Those priorities are understood by everybody. We will see how it plays out. If we all agree that these are the priorities, it makes it a lot easier to avoid spending time, money and resources on everything. It does not mean that you do not support all areas but it means that you are going to weight your resources in a certain direction.

CMO2:

I am finding that I can say no now but it has taken me several years at my firm to be able to say that. Usually, I do not say “no” flat out; I ask, ‘Have you thought about xyz?’ or I will say, ‘This is why this is not a great idea’, but you say it in a nice way.

David:

Kill them with kindness.

CMO2:

Yes, and I find that people are reasonable and you usually can say no, but it has taken me a long time.

CMO4:

I agree. I have the same situation but I have also been at my firm for over seven years and feel like I am in a position that I can say no, because I know what works and what does not work for them. They listen and I think they appreciate that, because they do not want to be connected to something that fails or that cost a lot of money and that people invested time in, and it does not go anywhere. It does them a favour.

I have been at my firm for over seven years and feel like I am in a position that I can say no, because I know what works and what does not work for them.

CMO2:

Larry Richards writes about lawyer resilience and the fact that lawyers do not like to be told, ‘That is not a great job’, because it takes them a while to bounce back. They do really want our approval and their colleagues’ approval. No one wants to be that long blade of grass. If you remind lawyers that ‘This is not a good idea, for the following reasons’, and you are rational, they are not going to want to stick their neck out and do something that is bad. It is just not in their nature.

Yolanda:

Especially if you can provide precedent, because they love precedent: ‘the last four times, this did not work.’

CMO2:

Exactly, and we all knew it.

David:

I keep referring to the outside world. The marketing budget of a traditional company is generally 5 6% of turnover; if they are trying to grow, they go up to 10-12%. Every law firm is trying to grow, to get bigger, to compete and to get more clients and a larger slice of that ever-shrinking pie, and yet marketing budgets are going down, on the whole, and are being pressured.

I would allocate more travel for the partners to see their clients in person, if they are not already onsite.

Yolanda:

Let us marry that concept with something that CMO4 said earlier, which is that it would be really great to have lawyers spend more time going out. Some people feel like that is happening at their firms, but it would be great to have them doing it more. That does not cost a lot of money, necessarily, to do that, but it may be some of the highest-value activity you can get people to do. What, then, are you going to do with the additional budget that you have? Maybe that is part of the question: if you had additional budget, where would you place it? Where would you place additional budget? Would it be on staff, so that you can support getting people out the door?

CMO2:

I would allocate more travel for the partners to see their clients in person, if they are not already onsite. Some firms are very free and liberal with expenses for partners to do this.

CMO8:

That is not an issue for us – people jump on planes all the time.

CMO2:

There can also be too much jumping on planes. That can turn into another issue concerning risk management and cost control.

CMO4:

Along the same lines of adding to staff, I would think about having more one-on-one coaching for individual partners. I think the reason some of them do not visit their clients or take them to a ball game might be because they are just not comfortable doing it. I think the coaching process could really help but it needs to be one on one, not in a group setting. I think they really need individual help.

CMO6:

Do you think that comes from your staff or do you see it with an outside coach?

CMO4:

I could see both, if we had someone on our staff who was trained to do that. If we do not have someone who has a strong background and a proven record in that, I would go outside and try to use someone.

CMO6:

We have had really mixed results on the outside thing, and I am worried that that taints going forward.

CMO8:

We have been piloting something using recently retired partners from the big four accounting firms, who had roles running global relationships. They are mentoring our relationship partners one on one, without coming back to us in any identifiable way. It has been very popular. We are starting to figure out what the metric is in terms of whether on or not it is moving the dial, but that seems to be a place where they feel like they are learning something. They are talking to a peer or a near peer who has been in their shoes. If you have a formal coach who does not have that background, it is more mixed, because they credit the person’s experience.

David:

Is everybody doing it or are you going to pick out people who you know are not very good at this?

CMO8:

Do you mean people in the partnership?

David:

Yes.

CMO8:

We picked a wide range of people from junior to senior.

David:

If you go forward with this, are you going to roll it out to everybody or are there some people who make you think, ‘You probably do not need very much’?

People who are good at business development are good at it, and people who are not can get a little better but they will never be as good as the people who are naturally good at it.

CMO8:

Yes. I wish we had more of those people. Surprisingly, very senior people who are very big business producers have asked to have it extended, because it is just somebody they can bounce ideas off, and they may not be comfortable, even in a small group of partners around the table. They do not feel comfortable saying, ‘How do I approach this difficult conversation with my client? What would you do?’ It is the culture at my firm: they do not feel as comfortable doing that with their fellow partners.

Yolanda:

If you read the research on introverts and extroverts, there are a number of people who, no matter what the culture, are simply not well-suited to coaching for that reason.

David:

There is an argument that you need a bit of both anyway.

CMO5:

People who are good at business development are good at it, and people who are not can get a little better but they will never be as good as the people who are naturally good at it. You need all types of people at a law firm, so it is better, in my opinion, if the Business Development people who are good at generating are doing more of that and feeding work to the people who are good at doing the work than spending a ton of time training people. It could be useless.

CMO2:

There are some new partners who have not had the opportunity to try it yet or who have not learned, and you want to help them figure out which way they are going to go: the workers or the hunters?

CMO5:

It depends on how the partnership operates at your firm. At my firm, associates have a current partner or senior person sponsoring them. More and more, the types of people who are really in the pool to become future partners have worked with good business-development generators. I think the internal relationships are more important, and they are being tutored and mentored by the people who are good naturally.

CMO3:

I agree that there are going to be some people who are naturals at creating new client relationships and proliferating throughout the firm, and who have that personality and inclination. I do believe, however, that all partners, if they are engaged in ongoing work for a client, have an opportunity to become business developers, because they have the direct opportunities and work with existing clients. I think these people can be coached and helped to make a lot more of their existing client relationships than they would otherwise tend to. There is, then, a place for business-development training in everybody.

David:

You are talking about it in terms of when you are in with someone, rather than going fresh.

CMO3:

Think about it: it is a lot easier to take a client from dollar here to dollar there. Those are your best revenue-generating opportunities.

CMO5:

Some of those people might be doing their business development by just doing a good job on the client job.

Yolanda:

That is certainly true. If you are at a firm that supports that kind of culture and supports having partners who can focus on this rather than that, that is fantastic. That is a great environment and a great supportive culture. What I have heard from people I have spoken to is that, more often than not now, especially since 2008, some of those partners who were, if you will, the client-relationship worker bees – a terrible phrase, I am sorry –

CMO7:

Service partners.

David:

Perhaps the phrase “hunters and farmers” might be used.

Yolanda:

After 2008, many of the service partners were cut. Just being a service partner was no longer a very secure position, and not only did they feel it inside themselves but they were given a message that they had to do better. That is one aspect.

I’ve done a lot of partner coaching, specifically more so in the pitch situation but also generally in business development. Clients do not want to meet only one partner; they often want to meet the partners who will work on their matter. If one is good and the other three are terrible in the room together, you have such an uneven situation that your clients are not happy with that. We have gotten feedback from those situations, where the client said, ‘Well, he/she may know what he/she is doing, but I am not going to work with them. I am not comfortable. I will go through you, and you can give them the work, but I am not dealing with them’, just because they were bad in a pitch.

CMO1:

It’s an on-going discussion within firms, especially if you are resource-short. This issue always comes up about where you spend time. For example, there’s a big discussion about training and coaching. Do you spend all your resources making your hunters even better and more effective, or do you spend your resources dealing with both? The obvious answer to that question, if your resources are slim, is to spend it on the hunters. One of our lawyers brought up the example of a prominent investment banking firm. That firm provides comprehensive training across all levels in the organization but, at the end of the day, their data show that the hunters are still the ones driving revenue at the firm. The training is provided more from a cultural perspective than from a belief that farmers can be turned into hunters. I am of the opinion that you can always make certain people better but, frankly, if you have limited resources and time, what do you do? The answer becomes pretty clear. That is where many of us are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

CMO2:

Would it not be wonderful if you could have a training program for partners or for people who are about to become partners. You could train them not only how to develop business but also on the relationship side, so that those people who might, on a scale of one to ten, be number four, can be taught not how to go out and develop the business but how to grow their existing business, to provide extra service, to care about the client and to ask the client questions. I think that that is a big missing piece.

Yolanda:

One of to the things I tried to do before I left last year was to create a cohort. I took the partners who had made partner in 2015, 2014 and 2013, and I created this group. We did a series of six sessions. We tried to cover many of the things that you talked about – not all, and you cannot cover them all in six sessions. What we were able to accomplish was a group of people who now want to continue and are continuing to meet with each other, because they now feel comfortable in this smaller environment, bouncing ideas off each other and creating a support system for themselves.

CMO2:

It is tough when I look at these new partners. I do not know if this is the same with every firm, but they are supposed to develop business, to take care of business, to make a senior partner happy and to be doing recruiting. Then we say to them, ‘You have to do marketing and PR and to speak at all these PLI programs’ etc, and they alreadyhave a lot on their plate. I do not necessarily know if anyone has really trained them that well to be able to do those things, so we get frustrated that they get frustrated, and I think there is something missing there.

Yolanda:

I think that goes back to your point about people playing to their strengths.

CMO6:

We start them out as associates in business-development training. By the time they become a partner, we usually know what their strength it is going to be in terms of them being a really good relationship person with certain ties to clients, or them being somebody who is going to be great at writing the things that are going to be timely in a way that clients are expecting on certain issue. We started doing that because they were totally at sea when they made partner or counsel. We do business plans for counsel – every counsel has to do it also – and a lot of people are counsel before they are partner these days.

David:

Also, one of the things that can possibly affect that is the attitude of the more experienced partners. When we are talking to the newly minted partners or senior associates, they say, ‘I would love to do more but it is frowned upon’ or ‘I get pushback when I want to throw an idea in. I have to know my place.’ That can be a real problem because the clients want to hear those new ideas. We all talk about the millennials and how none of us understand them at all. The way they see things is completely different but, ultimately, they are the future partners, the future leaders and the future GCs, so you have to think about how you can adapt early, rather than going down the same traditional paths, I guess, which is always a tricky thing to manage.

We are coming near-ish to the end of our time. In some ways, it would be quite fun, coming back to Yolanda’s earlier question, to find out whether there was one thing that you could or one thing that you would do and what it would be. For example, it could even be something like, ‘If we could remove that from anybody’s thinking, it would be amazing.’

CMO5:

Legal directories!

David:

I knew you were going to say that. There are many of them who you can remove, but not some.

CMO7:

Seriously, the amount of our time we spend towards submissions, awards and legal directories is significant. My view is that you have to do some of them, including yours, but it is just a big slippery slope, and everybody wants to do everything that comes across their table. It is very difficult –

David:

Is it frustrating, from your perspective, when you – and you are, effectively, the experts at this – get all these “opportunities” coming across your desk and you know what is good and what is bad - but sometimes the message still does not get through?

CMO7:

We push back all the time.

CMO2:

We say no to a long list of them. We literally have a list that we call our ‘no list’. If partners want to do something and we think it is not appropriate, we can generally point out that, ‘It is on our no list.’

CMO7:

You are doing The Legal 500, Chambers, Law 360 and all the very credible practice ones such as GAR. You are sucking up a huge amount of our BD resource doing that stuff.

CMO4:

We have had the best argument against it when they come to us and say what we really should: ‘Do you really want to ask your client to talk to this person again? Do you not want to save it for Legal 500? How many times do you want to tap your client?’ That has worked.

Yolanda:

That works. The other thing I tried to address – and I cannot say that I did it completely – was after I had found that people were spending way too much time on the materials, going back to the discussion before, and not enough time prepping for the conversation and talking to their clients. For me, that was always the real value out of this. The real value is that you get an opportunity to speak to and speak with your clients. Hopefully, they will tell you the truth before they offer to be a reference. Also, having people in the room listening to the way partners describe their practices and what they have accomplished for the year was a benefit to the Business Development team. The suck of time, however, on the written submissions was the thing that drove me crazy.

David:

I can tell you that a lot of effort goes into formatting and making them look pretty, and we do not need all that. Just the information is much more important. It is something that we are acutely aware of with the amount of things that are out there in terms of the amount of time that they can take up and the difficulty of that. Ultimately, we are very honest with everybody about it as well: do not do them, if you do not think they have a benefit. And clearly the major law firms all feel there is a benefit to doing ours. But you should be thinking about whether you are where you think you should be. Do you have a story? We are always looking for the story: does that practice have a reason for existing? What is it? How do we differentiate ourselves? The main thing is that, if the clients are using it and looking at these things, then absolutely, but, if they are not, unless they are really important for internal purposes, my advice is always to throw them away. They are a waste of time, except for the select elite.

CMO7:

A place where we would invest rather than cut would be around pricing and arming our partners with more sophisticated approaches to pricing and support.

CMO3:

As well as the related RFPs and RFIs that are just part of our lives. It is not going away. We kept on thinking, ‘Maybe this will go away. Maybe this is not really happening’, and still it continues to happen.

CMO1:

And thinking about project management, because they go hand in hand.

CMO7:

Some of this is not strictly within Marketing, but these are areas that we are really focused on at the moment.

David:

They are not strictly within Marketing but, in some respects, they should be –

CMO7:

The firm should be investing in it as part of their offering. Increasingly, clients are looking for firms that can have a credible story around how they project manage and how they provide the predictability in terms of the thing coming out price-wise. The RFPs that come in are probing more deeply around, ‘What is your story? What is your experience?’ not telling us you frequently do alternative fee arrangements, but ‘How do you guarantee what you are going to do?’ They do not like having the difficult conversations any more than we do.

In order to do any kind of RFP response, you need to know pricing. If you are not a pricing professional yourself, you need to work with a group of people in your firm who are and who have a good relationship with the issues.

CMO1:

Certain practices have been doing this for quite some time, and for some it is routine to include screenshots of case-management software in pitches or to include model budgets. That is an integral part of marketing those practices as much as anything else. I see that approach creeping in into other practice areas more and more. All of this is starting to blend. In order to do any kind of RFP response, you need to know pricing. If you are not a pricing professional yourself, you need to work with a group of people in your firm who are and who have a good relationship with the issues. You have to be comfortable with it. You also have to be comfortable with the idea of questioning lawyers about their bid. This is playing an important part in our marketing world, because there is no point in pitching for business that no one wants to give you because you are not priced competitively and have no other competitive edge.

David:

You also always provide them with surprises at the end in terms of billing, but no one wants that.

CMO3:

Has anyone done a deal auction?

Yolanda:

Sure.

CMO6:

Are they not fun?

CMO1:

I find them to be an educational tool for lawyers.

CMO6:

Does everybody have a pricing person at this point?

CMO4:

We do, but they sit in accounting.

CMO6:

We have done a lot around this. We have a tool that we use – Budget Manager – and it is helpful, but only to a certain extent. Talking about litigation, we can be as thoughtful and as realistic as we can possibly be, and offer something that we think is highly competitive, and end up undercut by half, because somebody just wants that work in the door. We have been in situations where we are qualified as one of five firms selected, and now everybody submits their bids, and then they come back and say, ‘This is the lowest bid we got. Are you going to match it or beat it?’ We are not a firm that is ever going to be the competitive winner on price, which is a real problem. Even when you do all the work around it, it is a worry.

Yolanda:

That then brings us back to the strength of the brand, and focusing some of the energy and some of the resources on the strength of the brand, which is the offset to the pricing.

CMO6:

We have been able to get some of these cases or some of this deal work on, ‘You did not win on price but we think you presented something that is honest’ – they can see through the unrealistic undercutting – ‘and we feel that, with what you priced, we are getting value from the deal.’

David:

For the most part, GCs are getting pressure on costs and they want to reduce them, but they do not want you to lose out massively. They want everybody to succeed.

CMO6:

You do not want to pick the lowest-cost provider and then have a situation where they run up a bill that is 50% more.

CMO2:

They do not want you to lose your shirt, but they want you to be more efficient. That is the problem when you have placed six associates on a tiny matter, or a 20-page memo, when you needed to answer a simple yes/no question.

CMO6:

That is why you always want to shift the conversation to value. Clients will say that value is what matters to them and, hopefully, they are true to their word. When you do present the options and there is a focus on hammering rates down, you need to think how much it is going to cost you in the end, because that is where you need to have a healthy conversation.

CMO1:

I think this is an interesting discussion because we have made an assumption that the firms undercutting everyone else are somehow not going to be quality law firms, and that assumption is flawed.

CMO6:

They may have strategic reasons for doing that.

CMO1:

They may have figured out how to provide the service more efficiently, and that is one of the challenges that we all face. Also, you raised a question about the value of the brand. I think the “brand” only gets you so far in certain areas – and especially the impact of the brand over other considerations. There are many qualified firms and qualified lawyers who can do certain types of work that our firms are involved in – not all, but some types of work. The value proposition for those firms is often put in a dollars-and-cents perspective. For clients, the value they would get from one firm versus another is often not tangible enough to choose based on brand alone. I think that is what’s going on and consequently it’s impacting our budgets. Frankly speaking, there are pressures on our ultimate business model, which a lot of this discussion dances around in way or another. That is broader than marketing issue, however, it significantly impacts what we do and how we market in a very intrinsic way.

For example, there are marketplace changes that are impacting how we sell what we sell. In certain litigation practices, marketing project management and budgeting tools are as effective as your experience sheet, because that is ultimately what those decision-makers are focused on: the results - how you can manage the results, and whether you have a track record in achieving similar results. Our traditional client contacts are also not as in control of this process as they used to be. Recently, I was in a meeting with a client – both lawyers and the operations/procurement people – and to say that the in-house lawyers were gritting their teeth through the entire meeting would be an understatement. They were being forced and dragged into this new reality. So even our clients – the GCs – are changing their perspective. That is the framework for this whole discussion.

Yolanda:

I was going to say – and you pointed to it at the end – that we have to redefine what ‘our clients’ means, because those Procurement people are as much as our client as the GCs. You see it. You will likely see it when they are in a room together, or you will intuit it when you see some of the emails going back and forth, that they are sometimes like this. We also have to be realistic and practical to know that, sometimes, a GC who does not want to have the conversation about price will lean on the Procurement person to help take care of that for him or her. That is who our clients are. I heard a procurement person once say, ‘This has happened because we no longer trust law firms when it comes to price. We do not trust them when it comes to efficiency and delivery of services, which is why this has happened.’ I am not sure I would go that far. I think this person has a very specific view of it. I think it is simply that we have come to a point in our lives and in the lifecycle of law firms where companies have figured out that this is a conversation that they need to have. They are never going back to before 2008. They have to cut – everybody has to cut – and this is the focus. That is the way it is going to be going forward. It is not going away.

David:

I think that is a good place to end it.

Yolanda:

It is a sad note to stop on.

CMO2:

Are you sure you do not want to stop on something happier?

CMO7:

Pricing and procurement?!

David:

Thank you, all, for taking part in this. It has been very interesting.