legal marketing professionals seat at the tableAdrian Dayton (@adriandayton), author and digital strategist to law firms, argues that marketing ought to be given a seat at the table in an article in last week’s National Law Journal. Spending time with professionals at the recent Legal Marketing Association Annual (LMA) Conference in Dallas, Dayton observed:

Legal marketers tend to have a thankless job. As nonlawyers, they are denied credit for their firms’ successes, but are quickly blamed for any missteps. Not all firms take this attitude but, in my experience, it is far too common. Since legal marketers can never become full partners in the firm, they too often are relegated to second-class status. Unfortunately, far too many of them simply grin and bear it.

How does Dayton explain this?

Many of the chief marketing officers and legal marketers I know are extremely intelligent and capable, but are not as good at one key component: negotiation. Trained lawyers will win the argument every single time. First, because they generally have strong personalities; second, because they are the owners of the law firms and have the final say. This presents a major business problem. Let me explain why through an example. A large law firm I recently worked with decided to get into blogging. The head of marketing was behind it, and the lawyers were behind it, but the managing partner killed the initiative. He personally was not a fan of blogging, and that trumped the expertise of his marketing director.

There is a genuine problem, but my gut tells me the cause of the problem is more messaging by all involved, especially by marketing who needs to show leadership, which comes from more than claiming or being given a seat at the table. Law firms need to bring in significant revenue. Some firms are billion dollar operations and many are not far behind. The true rainmakers in law firms know that the firm’s best work comes from business development. Business development founded on lawyers building and nurturing relationships as well as lawyers having a strong word of mouth reputation. Dayton suggests that the answer lies in the following:

  • Giving CMOs a true seat at the table.
  • Marketers adopting an attitude that instills confidence.
  • Being entrepreneurial, allow your marketing director to take risks.
  • Ditching titles like “nonlawyer,” as it diminishes the talent and commitment of your firm’s professionals

That may help, but it’s highly unlikely that’s the path to getting the attention of the 6 0r 8 percent of a firm’s lawyers who know what business development is all about and whose relationships and reputations are the difference between the firm succeeding or failing. Much of the discussion at the recent LMA conference, and now the first evening of the ABA TechShow in Chicago, centers around blogs and other social media. Social media which includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more. The message is that lawyers and law firms need to get with it or they are going to lose business. Take that message to the lawyers who bring in the work and they may well respond with “that takes too much time for a lawyer who is billing by the hour, and it’s too risky.” Jon Holden (@holdencalgary), Manager of Marketing Communications at Canada’s Bennett Jones, noticed that the discussion of blogging and social media at the LMA Annual had begun to advance to building loyal relationships. Holden’s on to something. Rather than propose blogs and other social media, how about talking with lawyers about relationships and one’s reputation? Discuss how the Internet can be used for business development to bring in significant revenue. Share case studies where lawyers are bringing in significant work on sophisticated matters through business development accelerated by the Internet. That approach demonstrates leadership, much more than seeking a ‘seat at the table.’ Leaders do not need titles or positions. They get things done by building relationships by understanding the concerns, fears, and what’s driving the other side. Leaders build win/win relationships within their organization. Don’t get me wrong, I think there ought to be a special place in heaven for many legal marketing professionals. I practiced law for almost 2o years. I saw the lawyer versus non-lawyer class system. I know that lawyers as old as I dread the word ‘marketing’ as it was unethical when we went to law school in the 70′s and how that makes a legal marketing professional’s job so hard. I just wonder if the messaging being used could be changed to that which lawyers desire – revenue through business development – would advance the cause of legal marketing professionals more than a seat at the table.