Our Biggest Challenges for Legal Marketing in 2022

The following is sponsored content from KHS People.

With C-Suite contributions by:

Christie CáceresChief Business Development & Marketing OfficerSheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
Murray CoffeyChief Marketing OfficerHaynes Boone
Julie ColeChief Marketing OfficerFrost Brown Todd
Lee Garfinkle*Chief Client Development & Relationship OfficerGoodwin
Lisa OlneyChief Marketing OfficerBernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann
Bob RobertsonChief Marketing OfficerJackson Lewis
*At the time of contributing, Lee Garfinkle was the Chief Client Development & Relationship Officer at Goodwin. Lee has recently taken the role of Client Executive at EY Law.

Issue 1: Industry Fatigue

I see three main reasons for our current industry fatigue:

1) Unrelenting workload.

The workload and expectations of marketers has increased exponentially. This is a positive move for the legal marketing industry overall. What must now follow this move is the appropriate amount of time and bandwidth to complete it.

Without any outlet, or a properly staffed and structured team, it is only a matter of short time until fatigue sets in. Without a proactive and visible plan to deal with that fatigue, it turns to burnout, lower morale, and ultimately, disengagement from the industry.

Cáceres shares: “CMOs can create awareness early and often before burnout happens. Creating cross-functional teams to work on projects that keep it interesting and fresh; many of us have experienced “SWAT” teams during COVID that required quick assembly and execution. Amidst the chaos, some of those projects really intrigued people and kept the creative juices flowing.”

Another CMO, who asked to remain anonymous, shared that their team is entirely overwhelmed because of the workload. Without the end in sight, this quickly impacts their ability to do the work and use their relied upon judgment and subject matter expertise. Even after several hires to try to combat these issues, this team’s capacity reached 100% again very quickly. The same problem then starts over.

2) Clear priorities and expectations.

Legal marketing roles are at greater risk of a lack of clear prioritization of tasks and responsibilities due to their constant evolving nature and far-reaching scope. Most Job Descriptions I see include an extensive list, including nearly every task or duty thinkable, ranging from tactical to strategic. Setting clear priorities helps to manage everyone’s expectation.

This doubles as an effective upward management tool. Marketers and partners need to clearly communicate their priorities and expectations on timing in year one, year two, and so on. Without this ranking of tasks by nature of importance, marketers end up being busy on everything with little big impact. Marketers can show partners their project map so it can be easily seen what is being done and by when.

Robertson shares: “What has (and continues) to plague marketing and business development roles in a number of law firms is a lack of clear focus and prioritization. The absence of both prevents having meaningful benchmarks to aspire to and be measured against. This results in roles that are mostly responsive and generally rudderless, exacerbating burn-out, dissatisfaction and fatigue.”

3) Boundaries matter.

Our current working life is our actual life. There is no work / life balance; we work from home and we live at our work. Small daily breaks we never thought about – commutes, lunch breaks, coffee breaks – gave us perspective and a fresh mind. Now, for many of us, that small break is used to answer emails or pick up a child from school.

It is critical for our team leaders to lead by example and put in place protocols for busy periods and encourage check out times where needed. When legal marketing professionals don’t have this type of support from the top, they leave the firm. Worst case scenario, they leave the industry altogether.

Cole says that her corporate experience enables her to approach some of these issues from a different angle. For example, she used contractors to augment staff in a prior role and is introducing that approach to be more nimble. She believes being clinical and quantifying workload increases for leaders helps them understand because you are speaking their language when you show hours.

Possible solutions:

  • Properly staffed and structured teams in each of the pre-manager, manager and senior positions. Cáceres says adding KPIs at each level help to articulate clear expectations across core competencies.
  • Have an outlet for the weeks or months when the workload is going to push your current team to the brink. The budget should include a buffer for additional headcount to accommodate the busy times, and indeed, the busy year.  
  • Our team leaders can continue to manage up to partners to communicate expectations and likely successes (and failures). Cole has found that doing an analysis of the marketing and business development team’s capacity before embarking on a new initiative is a tool she uses to arm herself with to manage up: “We need to do an evaluation of the project and ask do we have enough people to do this? If we don’t, we hire them. Many firms make management decisions without thoroughly considering if they have the available resources.” She further adds that she believes most Marketing Department and BD Departments should adhere to the ‘80% capacity rule’: “In order to do our jobs effectively and proactively and not be overwhelmed, we have to be at 80%. We then would have 20% for last minute projects or new projects. But when you’re already at 110%, and new projects and requests come in, you don’t have any flexibility. 80% would also allow us to do the other things, research industry trends and conduct competitor analysis, but for most Departments there just isn’t the time.”

Issue 2: People management

Why is this important?

Developing the non-technical skills of marketers, including people management, is not something law firms are set up to do (and in my view, rightly so, given their focus). So, given this, it is on our leaders to actively manage this issue. What makes this task even trickier? Even people managers need people management training.

Olney says it best: “Promoting someone who has excellent technical skills but no experience managing others and expecting them to “figure it out” may work occasionally, but it’s rare. And the consequences can be devastating, because ineffective managers can slow down or demoralize a whole team.”

Olney further adds that tying this essential skill into the responsibilities of team leaders is a critical piece to getting this right: “Leaders have a responsibility to not only model good people management themselves, but to make training around this crucial area part of the skills building for their department. Junior marketers can be trained on how to effectively communicate, and later how to handle difficult conversations with colleagues and internal clients. Training on how to be a contributing member of a team project can transition into how to lead one, and then how to formally manage those involved. We should ensure the building blocks to become a manager are in place and demonstrate through our actions and by who we choose to promote the value we place in these skills.”

Lee suggests that we should normalize how difficult this training can be: “It’s not uncommon for a new manager, particularly someone that now needs to manage former peers, to struggle a bit in the beginning. It’s important for them to recognize their role has changed and motivating, challenging, and helping your team members grow is one of their new top priorities.”

An added layer to this already notoriously tougher learned skill is the virtual nature we all pivoted to overnight and its impact on this issue. On this, Lee shares: “There have been few things during my career that have been as challenging as supporting people during the pandemic. It required diligent and consistent focus on how team members were doing, addressing their concerns, and making sure they know you are there for them. It’s critical that the team knows you have their backs, and you are thinking about their growth even though you’re not physically together.”

Why do firms struggle to add experienced people managers into their marketing teams?

It is a combination of three things:

  • a certain number of years in a formal people management role (and this is different for each manager role)
  • proven experience to directly and proactively deal with their team’s development
  • an affinity to this type of responsibility (some people don’t want this responsibility)

Law firms don’t typically focus on this, nor do they nurture this. In my view, people managers within marketing who have a track record of success in managing others should enter a different and higher salary range. Firms only reward technical skill, not management skill. In marketing, we hire for both technical and soft skills.

On this point, Coffey shares: “Not only do firms not nurture it, they attribute almost no value to it. I think many firms have endemic people management problems because the person at the top of a given department has never been compensated for their management skills and do not know how to identify people with good or promising people management skills. The opposite of a virtuous cycle. And in most law firms the HR function is focused on, and rewards, risk management.”

Olney also adds that what does seem to get attention quickly is when marketing department leaders see behavior, communication styles, or work product that is not at the level it needs to be for our internal clients, the attorneys. She says we must “bring the same level of vigilance to what’s happening within our teams, because that’s ultimately what has the most impact on the team’s cohesiveness and ability to provide solid work product and strategic guidance to the attorneys.”

Possible solutions

  • Proactive training. Either internally with a Professional Development Director, or externally with a credible coach or course. In time, I foresee a new role opening whose sole remit is to actively help and manage issues such as these for business services professionals.
  • Roleplay. Hold roleplay sessions with the team using real examples. This allows pre-manager marketers to learn and practice this skill in a fail-safe environment. Debriefing and noting the positives and negatives of different outcomes will be a key accompanying piece for this to be successful. Coffey shares that he has done this in helping people deal with challenging lawyers.
  • Manager peer learning sessions. Hold sessions where your managers feel comfortable to share their learnings, successes and struggles as a people manager. This needs to happen in a trusted, confidential and safe manner, whilst empowering them to acknowledge the challenges and that collaboration to enhance learning is significant.
  • Unwavering support. When leaders are highly attuned to their team, the flow-on effect is powerful. Lee shares: “As a leader of a large team, there is nothing more important to me than supporting my colleagues. The higher you go in an organization, the more critically important that becomes.” Coffey also adds that emphasizing empathy as a guiding principle is critically important.
  • Move quickly and informally. Training doesn’t have to be made into a big deal, nor does it have to take up a large block of time. Small, frequent displays of training can be as effective. To this point, Olney shares: “Not all training needs to be formal. Most leaders have taken the time to show a new employee or more junior member of the team how to effectively complete a task. We should be doing the same when it comes to communication and management skills. Have that coaching conversation with your new managers so they feel more confident in their skills. Give positive reinforcement to ensure they know when they get it right, and corrective feedback when they could have handled a situation better. Managers set the tone for their teams, and they should understand the impact that can have and why it can be so detrimental to the team, and ultimately the firm, when people don’t feel heard or supported.”

Next up? One of our biggest challenges yet…


  • Kate Harry Shipham

    Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm with a niche in placing marketers and business developers in law firms. Kate is a former attorney, and she leverages her background as an attorney to understand the individual needs of her clients and candidates. Both clients and candidates work with Kate because of her deep understanding of the market, her ability to relate based on her attorney and search experience combined, and her professional and personable style she brings into each search.