November 26, 2007 | last updated May 26, 2012 2:44 am
SELLING SUITS

Like Ad Campaigns, Tenure Is Short For Legal Marketers | Law firms want a marketing presence, but burn through marketing managers quickly

Most companies have a marketing machine working for them, a person or staff out there to create buzz and drive up business — and many law firms want one, too.

But law firms often don't know how to keep the same person in the driver's seat for long.

Turnover is quick for legal marketers. Average tenures are hard to specify, but most marketing professionals say the usual job span is a mere two years. Audra Callanan, president of the New England chapter of the Legal Marketing Association, put the tenure track at between one and two years.

That's been the case more often at Connecticut's largest law firms. DayPitney marketing officer Roberta Montafia left after little more than two years. Shipman & Goodwin's marketing chief, Tom Diascro, didn't even make that mark — and that was after leaving a similar post at Tyler Cooper & Alcorn after less than a year. Robinson & Cole's long-time marketing queen, Linda O'Connell, also left within the last year.

Callanan bemoans the revolving-door scenario, and she and other marketers point to fundamental culture differences as a key source of friction.

Professional Differences

Marketers are businesspeople; lawyers are not — or at least they were never trained to be. Typically, marketers have definite plans about demographic targets and marketing strategy but don't always grasp the nuances of working in a law firm, such as the ethics regulations involving how law firms can advertise.

Conversely, law firm partners in charge may know the law thoroughly but may be out of their depth when it comes to running a business.

"That's where law schools fail," Callanan said. Lawyers enter the profession without any idea about some basic business principles, like how to make hiring decisions, deal with staff, or work on a public relations or marketing campaign to grow business.

Besides, marketers don't just have one boss to answer to — they answer to a bevy of partners who often have strong opinions about what should or, more likely, shouldn't be done.

"The pace is very slow to get things done," Callanan said. "It's really hard."

A New Wave

Elizabeth Butcher, Hartford-based marketing director for Robinson & Cole, said she's seen the ranks of Connecticut's legal marketers expand recently as law firms jump on the marketing bandwagon.

"The tide is definitely changing in the Connecticut marketplace, even in the last two years," she said, and turnover is still high. Marketers are frustrated by a perceived lack of support from the top, and lawyers still haven't figured out what they want their marketing plan to do exactly.

Law firms "just know they need to have it because everybody else does," Butcher said.

Turnover is partly a sign of growing pains for a changing industry. While most other companies have had a marketing component for most of their lives, it's a relatively new aspect of law firm operations. They weren't even allowed to advertise until 1977.

When Larry Bodine, a lawyer and law firm business consultant, applied for a legal marketing job in 1981, his prospective employers asked him to write out what his job description was.

"They didn't know what they wanted — I had to tell them. I was floored," he said, adding that many lawyers still don't know what they want in terms of a marketing plan. Other industries might have fast turnover for their marketing professionals, but law firms have especially difficult situations.

Aside from culture differences, other factors contribute to turnover, said Bodine, who is based out of Illinois and has worked with the Legal Marketing Association. One major issue: The highest tier of law firms isn't always static, as some have a revolving system that puts new partners in charge every few years. When that happens, once-favored staff members — including marketers — might have to start packing their bags.

"You instantly go from being a movie star to being deadwood in one day. And that happens to a lot of chief marketing officers," he said.

Wrong Tacks

But marketers don't always approach their new positions as well as they should either. Bodine said many are recruited in from other industries and bring ideas that might be great for corporations — but they just aren't workable for law firms.

Also, marketers need to be aware that law firms aren't just looking to have a marketing staff but for "business development," which means that more firms want to see obvious, bottom-line results for their expenses.

Marketers' efforts often don't have easily quantifiable results, he said. Few people can, for example, show exactly how much revenue a particular event or effort brought the firm. All marketers can show is how much they've spent.

Marketers would be wise to keep closer track of new clients that have come out of particular marketing efforts, Bodine said. At a minimum, that will help keep the marketer around longer and convince the firm's higher-ups that he or she is worth the expense.

Sally Brashear, marketing director for Bridgeport-based Pullman & Comley, said many law firms are only half-convinced they need marketing professionals in place. She remembers one case where a fast-growing Hartford law firm's partner called to ask her opinions about where to hunt for a marketing professional to boost business. She asked if the firm was going to bring in an executive-level marketer — but no, she said, they just wanted a staff person.

"They'll have one person to accomplish the entire world of marketing needs, and that's unrealistic," she said.

But in that case, the new hire did convince the firm to put more effort into marketing needs, and Brashear thinks that's becoming more common among law firms.

At her previous firm in New York, Brashear researched legal marketing turnover and found it to be less than two years. So now, about seven years later, things seem to have improved slightly.

"Although it seems like a short tenure, I think it's extending," she said.

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