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We are witnessing the start of the “great legal marketing validation”. Legal marketers are feeling stronger as suddenly they are the talk of the town. All it took was Fried Frank to grab up 6 marketers from Cooley. Now law firms are realizing how important marketing is — and will be.

Fried Frank’s move set the legal marketing world abuzz about whether or not the ‘Second-Class Citizen’ Treatment of Business Pros will ever change. But, ready or not, change is rearing its head. It’s not going away.

How and When the Big 4 Changed Their Mindset

In the accounting world, for example, you have many partners who are not CPAs and include marketers who work on the client side and internally. They went through a long transition period of hiring different skill levels in marketing before getting to where they are today. Mandatory retirement starts at 62 and doesn’t go much higher. So, the partnership goes through many changes over a decade. And they have closed compensation — they don’t share what marketing people get paid. At some point, they upped the salaries and talent pool.

The mindset changes when there is an external shock — like when audit clients decided there was no real difference in the Big 4 and started hammering fees in the early 80s. Accounting firms made capital calls and lost money, and 2 national firms went bankrupt. Key people were declining partnerships because of the cut in pay.

But that won’t happen in law firms. Something else will — like a merger of 2 Wall Street firms or the tech-oriented law firms from the West Coast surpassing NY firms in PEP.

Also — look for another firm to raid a marketing department. This will up the game and begin the normalization of moving lateral marketing groups. It will become part of the landscape.

As law firm partnerships grow there will be fewer partners with marketing skills and less anti-marketing bias. The marketers will become part of the lifeline to new business — and more embraced by the firm. A new mindset is born.

How to Start Changing the Mindset Today

Leadership often has different thoughts about Marketing and Business Development than the other partners. There will always be a group of attorneys who have little respect for Marketing and Business Development. This is true for any firm with more than 10 partners. This is also true at most professional services firms.

The best CMOs/CBDOs connect with leadership and embrace those partners who are supportive — and to the extent they can — ignore the skeptics. These marketing leaders have great success as the supportive partners drown out the rest. But you can’t do this without committed leadership.

Leadership commitment and the ability to show the skeptics what you can do with supportive partners is the most effective strategy for success. I have seen skeptics convert — but have never seen the supportive go the other way.

Law firms are already in the next generation of growth and competition. CMOs/CBDOs are compelled to perform more due diligence about leadership commitment and expectations — and be candid with some of their plans and strategies to get a read of their commitment. This goes for people making moves, those with new leadership, and individuals considering a move. It also helps those who plan to stay where they are.

Law firms will also be well served by developing contingency plans in case of a raid. Lay out what you will do if and when it happens. They can also beef up training to always be developing skills — this will create a ready level of talent to step in — and make people want to stay.

Fried Frank is the opening salvo. Look for law firms who want to ramp up their game to take teams from firms with high performing marketers. And target firms will bolster efforts to retain their key marketing leaders. They will bring them even more into the culture of the firm; by sharing future plans, offering a stronger voice, listening more, and bringing them to clients.

The great validation will be one more step in separating law firms in the market. The believers will invest and position themselves for the next phase of legal marketing — and move ahead of those who don’t.

Best in the market ahead.

The Mad Clientist

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