Transitioning to a new role change within the same firm is not an easy task, and growing into a more authoritative position and rebranding oneself among those who have already decided how to define you can be even more of a challenge.
As our firms transition to more traditional business models and the lines between staff and attorneys get more blurry by the moment, we are presented with a unique opportunity as in-house marketing and business development professionals to redefine our roles.
A lack of clearly defined role(s) in the industry
I surround myself with a magnificent tribe of colleagues in the legal marketing and business development industry; I find trading war stories and successes to be both therapeutic and educational. I’m lucky to say that I’ve made some fantastic friends in the process.
All that being said, I have not found that a lot of small to mid-sized firms define their in-house roles in the same way that my firm does.
Often, in discussing my roles and responsibilities, I am met with cries of, “they let you go to that?” or “you’re included in those meetings?” or “how did you get them to let you run with that?” or “my firm doesn’t see me that way at all; how did you get yours to?”
I am brought back to my musings of last year about the dreaded terminology of “non-lawyer” within law firms. No matter the crux of the question, somehow, the answer is always the same: I defined an added value. I made a case for it. And quite frankly, I asked.
You don't get what you don't ask for...
Simply put, I’ve found that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and no one owes you anything: not a heightened level of respect, not a new responsibility, not assistance resulting in added efficiency. Nothing.
Whether you are in a large department where there is a clear ladder to climb, or are a party-of-one (as I am) in a small to mid-sized firm, I challenge you to think of how your role fits into the firm’s business plan. Once you’ve figured that out: make yourself more valuable.
Be intellectually curious. Push the status quo. Keeping your head down, doing good work, and expecting a reward is yesterday’s trend; doing first (with conviction, and the data to prove it) and apologizing later is “the new black.”
I’m not advocating for impulsive and ill-reputed innovation, only acknowledging that many great ideas have been strangled to death by red tape...
I’m not advocating for impulsive and ill-reputed innovation, only acknowledging that many great ideas have been strangled to death by the red tape often found in law firms. Sometimes, getting a little further down the road with something before garnering support can make all the difference.
Think of what your biggest value add as an in-house marketing, business or client development professional would be and what you would enjoy most about changing that trajectory of your career.
Do you want to interface directly with the firm’s clients? Highlight that each and every one of the firm’s employees (whether a lawyer or not) can and should serve as a brand ambassador for the firm’s message. Go above and beyond to learn about the firm’s services and what you are selling, and the firm will be much more apt to let you network on the firm’s behalf.
Do you want to understand the firm’s business strategy better but are blocked from receiving certain pertinent financial reports? Position the ask to frame how gaining a better understanding of the firm’s revenue structure will help you coach your attorneys in a more strategic fashion, and focus your attention on the individuals, industries and practice areas that are the most beneficial to the bottom line.
Would you prefer to do less “busy work” and more strategic, long-term planning and execution of large projects? Track your time for a few months; organize and decide which tasks can be delegated to another administrative role at the firm, and then present the opportunity to use your time more efficiently to your supervisor. Don’t make more work for him/her by presenting them with an “ask” for help, and leaving the burden of creating the job description on them.
Do you want to utilize the help of someone who was once your peer and is now a direct report? Remember, vividly, what it’s like to be in his/her shoes; frame the ask in a way that would have showcased the value add when you were in that role, so it’s less of a dictatorship and more of a team approach. Everyone wants to know how what they are doing, from running copies or bringing coffee to signing paychecks and merger contracts, affects the big picture of the company’s goals. We all want to feel like a valued member of the team, no matter what our title.
What other tips do you have for transitioning from a “doer” to a leadership position?
[Jenna Schiappacasse is director of marketing and business development at Baltimore-based law firm Rosenberg Martin Greenberg. She currently serves as President-Elect of the Mid-Atlantic Region Board of Directors for the Legal Marketing Association, and as an adjunct member of LMA's Advocacy Advisory Council Connect with Jenna on LinkedIn and follow her additional writings on JD Supra.]
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