Law Firm Marketing Functions: A Forensic Review

  • October 29, 2014
  • Susan Van Dyke

Think of marketing in a holistic sense. It has many moving parts, the plates of which are constantly spinning—perhaps at different rates, but it has one function driven by a singular mandate: profitability.

The most significant components of marketing are marketing and business development. So, what’s the difference between the two, you ask? The marketing function is like a pipeline, or continuum, that leads to sales and ultimately the firm’s bottom line. Marketing casts a wide net at the entrance of the pipeline in an effort to funnel qualified prospects into the pipeline. Then, all subsequent efforts attempt to move the lead through the pipe and closer to a buying decision and finally deliver this lead to the end service provider—you, the lawyer.

Consider it this way: Marketing focuses on everything but the last half, or so, of the pipeline. Business development, on the other hand (and you’re going to hate this), is s-a-l-e-s. There, I’ve said it. The business development function ensures prospects become clients. Interestingly though, the business development function is not heavily weighted within the typical law firm marketing department.

According to the Roles and Compensation Survey sponsored by the Legal Marketing Association in 2004, 72 per cent of the 867 respondents classify themselves as “marketing generalists,” while only 12 per cent describe their function as “business/client development,” with the next largest category amounting to only 4 per cent is “marketing communications.” When respondents were asked to specify which category best describes their primary marketing function, more than 72 per cent said “marketing generalist”. In addition, only 12 per cent indicated that business/client development is their primary function.

The line between business development and marketing can get a little fuzzy. Both roles are bottom-line focused and both concern themselves with achieving business goals and objectives related to profitability. And here the distinction ends.

The marketing function serves to identify and deliver key messages to a targeted audience to gain a predefined desired response. The focus is on communicating to key constituents to either advance or maintain your position in the marketplace, and, of course, feeding that pipeline.

Let’s look at an example. You want women drivers between the ages of 25 to 40 years-old to test drive a new Honda Accord in the next six weeks because you know that 65 per cent of road tests result in sales within two days. Okay, so I’m making all of this up to make a point here, but just bear with me.

Business development professionals will look at the process, the incentives and the sales cycle that will increase the probability of sales. Marketing will develop the strategy and roll out messages and imagery that will appeal to the target market. They will consider all mechanisms to get this message to the target audience—outdoor ads, broadcast media, direct mail and so forth. Marketing delivers buyers to the sales party.

The business development function, then, serves to develop and retain clients to generate revenue. Their goal is to close sales with the qualified leads brought to them by the marketing team. Back to our Honda example, all the people wandering the showroom floor—or, in our case, leads in the pipeline—have resulted from the good work of marketing. Now the sales team must convert the prospective buyers to sales. They will motivate them with promotions, the convenience of in-house insurance agents, acceptance of trade-ins, favorable financing—these are all developed by the business development team.

In a law firm context, the sales function is practically invisible unless you work in the marketing department. Very few individuals are solely dedicated to this effort.

Some marketing professionals are strategically oriented and will typically use competitive intelligence, market research (both primary and empirical), economic and industry statistics and forecasts to develop their strategies and identify targets.

These same people would likely be interested in the firm’s profitability by lawyer and practice areas—billing and effective rates, billable budgets and targets including monthly reports on each lawyer and perhaps even outstanding receivables.

Business development professionals, on the other hand, will be on the front line to receive requests for proposals from clients or prospective clients. In a small firm, significant proposals with short deadlines will require a marketing professional to set aside other marketing projects while working closely with a partner to ensure a prompt and complete response to the proposal.

Those responsible for business development will be keen to get client feedback through such tools as surveys or in-person interviews. In doing so, they gain hugely valuable insight into the clients’ opinion—insight that will fuel both the strategic planning process and day to day behaviour.

Marketing Professionals in Small and Large Firms

An average ratio of lawyers to marketing professionals that should provide sufficient service to lawyers is somewhere around 30:1. Every firm is different, but this is a good benchmark. At this rate, one person can respond to the needs of your lawyers, run seminars, book and produce ads, update the website, respond to RFPs (requests for proposals) or produce print materials for practice groups. Until you are able to address the “daily noise” it will be difficult, if not impossible, to put one’s mind to strategic plans alongside the firm’s managing partner or executive committee.

If your firm is more strategically driven or poised for growth, 20 lawyers to one marketer would be more appropriate. I know of one large firm whose ratio is about 13 lawyers to one, and their results undeniably justify their team size.

Firms hiring their first marketing professionals will be most effective if they position this person, not only as a tactician, but also as a person who will bring value to the role and assist with the development of plans and strategies. You’ll find some useful examples of job descriptions in the Job Bank at

Some firms lean heavily on two or three multitasking jugglers who execute a variety of tactical efforts. Large firms have more team members and, as such, have more defined roles.

Smaller firms of fewer than 30 lawyers would do well with a marketing manager or coordinator to take on some of the non-billable client development work and marketing tasks that will free up lawyers’ time for billing.

Mid-sized firms of 50 to 80 lawyers would likely need a staff of two or three marketing individuals to execute and advance the firm’s goals. Most mid-sized firms have not yet staffed their marketing department to the extent that they can get above the noise and effectively strategize to advance their firms.

Yet large firms have embraced marketing with enthusiasm. They have regional marketing teams working directly with their local lawyers and Managing Partners; a few have also found the means to hire national or global marketing teams that execute firm-wide projects and initiatives effectively and proactively. These firms, sometimes with chief marketing officers in place, comprehend the value of marketing as a revenue driver. Lawyers spend less time on the business functions of the firm and more time billing and getting high-value non-billable face time with clients.

Is it important to distinguish between the roles? Firms with more than 100 lawyers can easily generate thousands of mandates for the marketing team in a year. Distinguishing the functions will help to develop specialized skills within the team that can benefit the firm.

Take the media relations function as one example. Funneling media calls to one person will serve to develop relationships with writers and reporters and their publications. Trust and goodwill are built and the firm’s key messages, arguably, will be more often reported. By nature, people prefer to work with others they know and trust. A good media person will understand and respect a publication’s deadlines, the necessity for good quality interviews, and the importance of fact-checking. Thought leaders within the firm who seek to reach readers of a particular publication will enjoy a higher likelihood of getting published if the firm’s media relations person (the person who pitches the story) has a good relationship with the editor.

From a staff retention point of view, though, there may be value in providing opportunities to work on different projects and explore using, or developing, different skill sets.

Small-firm Marketing: What it Looks Like and How to Stretch Resources

What’s a small firm to do if it doesn’t have a couple of hundred thousand dollars to spend on marketing salaries? Outsource. Carefully. Each firm is different. Some Managing Partners or executive committees are better prepared and equipped to lead the charge with respect to marketing. Smaller firms are more nimble and require less strategic planning. Lawyers will adopt a plan more willingly than in larger firms, so for this reason and others, the marketing function’s weight can be more heavily placed in tactical activities.

Execution of plans for the benefit of maximizing lawyers’ billable time is a core function. Even in firms of fewer than 15 lawyers, a self-motivated marketing coordinator with one to three years’ experience at a salary of $35,000 to $45,000 will more than pay for him or herself with the savings in billable time.

As a general rule, 80 per cent of this person’s time will be spent on day-to-day tactical activities and 20 per cent of his/her time planning and implementing best-practices strategies. Producing newsletters, organizing seminars, updating the website, ensuring brand compliance, updating the firm’s marketing/client database, developing ads and announcing new lawyers and so on are important elements to servicing clients and maintaining your position in the marketplace. Covering these activities will keep the roar of internal noise down by ensuring lawyers are supported in their client development efforts.

On a lesser scale, evaluating and revising the firm’s activities should be on a continuum. Beyond keeping the day-to-day activities ticking along, improvements to website content, encouraging the generation of additional firm publications or articles, identifying new target markets or working alongside a group of lawyers to develop a new niche are some of many initiatives that will advance the firm’s position and help to achieve its strategic plan.

The 20 per cent portion of time can increase, provided that the day-to-day maintenance activities are covered. If growth is part of the firm’s plans, then additional resources will need to be added. Again, depending on the firm’s executive capabilities and interests, bench strength in marketing is likely warranted, either as in-house staff or external resources.

One must get creative to stretch the marketing resources in a small firm. I’m often surprised that receptionists are not utilized to their fullest capacity. While receptionists should avoid compromising their primary role (client care) they can often take on extra tasks during the gaps in their day. Taking event RSVPs or updating lawyer biographies, marketing/client database and the website are just a few of the tasks they can take on. Better yet, apply an interface so that your accounting software will automatically update your marketing database to avoid the necessity of duplicate inputting of client names and addresses.

Floaters who aren’t busy can easily take on some administrative work, and keeping a running list of these types of tasks will serve you well.

Your word processing department can pitch in with typing marketing committee meeting minutes, updating the marketing database, preparing nametags for events, or even typing memos and reports from dictation.

The Marketing Department: Who Does What?

Functions and business development focus within each will vary, but the most common functions are:

  • Chief marketing officer (CMO)
  • Director of marketing
  • Director of client service
  • Director of business development
  • Marketing manager
  • Marketing coordinator
  • Events coordinator
  • Communications coordinator
  • Database (CRM) coordinator
  • Marketing assistant

Here’s what each role looks like from the inside:

Chief Marketing Officer

Reserved for the largest national and international firms, this position is the most senior of the marketing department and typically reports directly to the firm’s managing partner. In Canada there are few of these positions, but firms with a CMO will find he or she is closely involved with the development of the firm’s business strategy.

A visionary and strategist, this person will oversee the firm’s business development, communications, growth and brand issues. This person will also be responsible for the building and retention of a strong and effective marketing team – a team that will be responsible for delivering on the CMO’s strategic marketing plan, a plan that serves to deliver on the firm’s overall business strategy.

Critical skills: Strong leadership skills, excellent understanding of professional services marketing, demonstrated expertise in strategic planning with other executives, high level of diplomacy and personal integrity and exceptional communication skills.

Marketing Director

National or regional in scope, this role typically reports to the CMO or the national or regional managing partner. Some of these positions report to a marketing partner or marketing committee.

The marketing director is the most generalist of roles. This person is the bastion of the firm’s brand, client service and communications, with a particular emphasis on business development efforts.

He or she will outsource projects when necessary and oversees the management of these vendors or delegates this responsibility to a marketing manager.

Coaching junior marketing professionals and lawyers alike, this individual will have regular and ongoing contact with the firm’s lawyers and managing partner, will attend management meetings and is often involved in the strategic plans of their office.

In many offices, there are only a few individuals who have the whole firm perspective. Most commonly, these are the managing partner, the administrator (or general manager), but also the marketing director and possibly the HR director. As such, this person should be contributing to the firm’s strategic planning process, or, at minimum, working with the CMO to help plan resources to achieve the firm’s goals.

Critical skills: establish and maintain excellent interpersonal relationships, possess excellent communication skills, very well organized and capable of working with intelligent attorneys with different personalities. Self-directed; strategic; intuitive; hands-on work ethic; flexible and creative.

Business Development Director/Manager

In its purest form, business development is the disguised sales and retention function of the firm. This person is charged with uncovering opportunities for the firm to receive or actively bring in more files, and identify and apply client retention techniques.

They understand proposal elements that will resonate with the recipient and will often drive this process through to completion.

It will very often involve training lawyers; analyzing billings by client, practice group or office; performing industry research; making external presentations; and drafting proposals and pitches.

A position singularly focused on business development is not as common in Canada as it is in the US. Those positions that do exist in our country are more often suspended between a focus of developing business and developing and implementing marketing strategies – the lines are fuzzy along the marketing continuum that leads to sales. Conceivably, every marketing effort funnels to either developing sales or retaining clients.

Critical skills: good writing and presentation skills, solid understanding of business development strategies, good project management skills, excellent time management.

Marketing Manager

There is a significant business development component to this role, whether in a small or large firm. This individual is another generalist and touches all aspects of the firm’s marketing efforts.

Mid-sized firms typically have this position among their staff and possibly another person full- or half-time. A true generalist and sometimes a lone ranger, this role focuses on keeping the marketing efforts of its lawyers on track and finding additional resources during peak times. Assisting the manager are sometimes the firm receptionist, floaters, temps or other flexible human resources around the firm. Primarily concerned with deliverables, this person will likely attend and participate in practice group meetings and other mid-management meetings.

Other areas of focus are likely development of marketing materials, business development training, events, evaluating sponsorship opportunities, budgeting, proposals, RFP responses, PowerPoint presentations, ads, vendor management and relations, public relations (including media and community relations).

In larger firms, this person executes marketing programs and strategies developed by either the marketing director or chief marketing officer. Critical to the success of this role is the ability to build relationships within the firm to ensure goals of the business development strategies and marketing programs are achieved. The marketing manager will typically develop new strategies as well as manage and maintain the firm’s existing business development efforts.

The lead marketer in a small firm is typically a marketing manager and reports to a Marketing Partner or Marketing Committee.

Critical skills: 5- 10 years experience in a professional services marketing environment, self-motivated, self-confident, diplomatic and politically astute, proven effective skills with vendors including good negotiating skills.

Marketing Coordinator

This person, another generalist, is a tactician solely focused on implementing the marketing director’s deliverables. A work week might involve working on a proposal; producing and distributing invitations; finding sponsorship opportunities; generating newsletters, ads or other collateral material; ordering promotional material (umbrellas, t-shirts, ball caps, etc.); familiarizing new lawyers with the firm’s marketing department; assisting with the implementation of business development training for lawyers and staff; and other tasks.

This individual’s work would often overlap with the responsibilities of other members of the marketing team, so team-orientation is an important quality for success.

Critical skills: good writing skills, good understanding of advertising fundamentals, self-confident, basic marketing skills, event coordination and a willingness to work well in a team environment.

Communications Coordinator

Again, depending on the structure and size of the firm, this role will vary from supporting lawyers with the production of marketing materials such as biographies, bulletins, newsletters, ads, and updating the firm’s website.

Most importantly from a business development point of view, proposal and pitch documents are also usually part of this person’s mandate, which involves a healthy understanding of the firm’s strengths and weaknesses, the firm’s key messages, plus a solid understanding of how to communicate effectively with prospective clients. It also requires a certain level of leadership, in coordination with the marketing manager or director, in rallying lawyers to contribute or review these documents in order to meet deadlines. This is arguably one of the most critical elements of the marketing team as most of the firm’s marketing and business development efforts are designed to culminate at this point: receiving the invitation or seizing the opportunity to present the firm as a potential service provider.

More progressive firms will use this individual’s writing skills to draft media releases and respond to media enquiries. Good coordinators will even provide light media training to lawyers when necessary.

Most coordinators should be able to manage vendor relationships and services including those of graphic designers, printers, public relations agencies, and external writers. At times, this will include managing limited budgets

Critical skills: good writing skills that can adapt from corporate to creative, a good understanding of the sales/business development cycles, public relations-savvy, well organized, ability to develop productive working relationships with lawyers and other firm professionals.

Marketing Assistant

Supporting the director, this individual’s focus is on the administrative tasks that typically burden the marketing team. Paying bills, filing, updating legal directories, managing the director’s schedule, performing light market research, and taking calls from vendors and charities are some of the primary functions of this role. He or she might also be tasked with light database and website updating and ordering the firm’s corporate gifts.

Critical skills: organized, attention to detail, diplomacy, discretion, confidence and self-motivation.

The roles within the marketing and business department in a law firm can vary, but each is focused on profitability. We should always ask ourselves: will this strategy or task bring us closer to a client or prospect? Will it ultimately assist in bringing in a new file or retaining a current client?

And firms would do well to ask themselves: do we have sufficient marketing staff to advance to the next stage in our business? Have we satisfied the needs of legitimate lawyer requests for marketing support? If not, it’s likely time to build up your team.

Susan Van Dyke, Principal, Van Dyke Marketing & Communications is a law firm marketing consultant based in Vancouver, B.C. She can be reached at 604-876-7769 or